Argentina plans water infrastructure push as illegal canals flood pampas

By Luc Cohen

BUENOS AIRES, March 13 (Reuters) – It was not just the heavy rains that left the streets of the Argentine town of Pozo del Molle flooded for three months last year.

Nearby farmers built small canals without authorization to drain their fields of surface water, redirecting flows toward urban areas and worsening the impact of flooding, said Carlos Salvatico, the mayor of the 7,500-person town in the key agricultural province of Cordoba.

“Each producer tries to use as much of his land as possible, without realizing the ecological problems he’s causing,” Salvatico said by phone on Friday. “That creates a large volume of water that ends up causing problems.”

So-called clandestine canals built by farmers to protect their crops are often blamed for exacerbating devastation across Argentina’s naturally flood-prone pampas grains and cattle belt.

Flooding this summer has prompted evacuations and left 2 million hectares (4.9 million acres) of highly productive land either underwater or cut off from markets because roads are flooded, said Pablo Bereciartua, undersecretary for hydraulic resources in the government’s Interior Ministry.

The floods’ increased severity comes after decades of financial crises limited investment in roads, bridges and proper canals, despite substantial growth in population and farm output in the world’s No. 3 corn and soy exporter.

Recent rains have deepened flooding in low-lying areas while boosting yields in dryer parts of the country. The Buenos Aires Grains Exchange sees soy and corn production in the 2016/17 harvest at 54.8 million tonnes and 37 million tonnes, respectively. Flooding in Argentina caused soybean and soymeal prices to hit six-month highs in January, though they have since fallen.


Center-right President Mauricio Macri,…