“Drain the Swamp?!”

Today, I decided to look into the debate over the Lajas valley. To give some background on this one agricultural problem, of Puerto Rico’s many, we need to look at its history, its present, and what may end up happening one day. For most of Puerto Rico’s history, the Lajas Valley was a sort of seasonal wetland that could not be used for agriculture. It pretty much just sat and took up space. In the late 1950’s the Puerto Rican government drained the swamp and made the area available for agricultural use. There have been some salty shenanigans along the way.

Unfortunately, because this land in Lajas was submerged in water during the seasonal rains, it would flood so much that it would connect with the ocean, leading to soil and water tables with high concentrations of salt. This is incidentally bad for most forms of agriculture in that it induces wilting and poor growth of pants resulting in poor yields. The farmers tried to alleviate the problem by drawing water from wells in the area, but because the wetland had been connecting the land to the sea there for a long time, the water tables contain high levels of salt as well. This only hurt the farm land more. This cycle of self-deprecation has led to two main possible solutions. One, to return the Lajas valley to its origins as a seasonal wetland, and use it to generate revenue via tourism. The other, to use rice patties to flush the salty soil so that in a few years the Lajas valley could be used for any type of agriculture.

The first option to use tourism is technically viable, but I personally would not recommend it because tourism is such a fickle business. Not to mention that the Lajas valley is quite a distance from any other area that already has tourists. This means that if people wanted to see the wetlands they would need to make a special trip, and find a place to stay. Currently, there is just not the infrastructure in the area for that to be possible. It is admirable to hope that people would want to see the wetlands, but they are, as previously stated, a seasonal oddity. This means that even if the tourist base is there to see the area, the wetlands would not be present for viewing for large portions of the year.

I personally would go for the agricultural route involving rice. This route would not only produce food that does not need to be imported, but also heal the soil. In my opinion, this is a win-win situation with almost guaranteed benefits for all parties involved. Of course, some people are skeptical of taking the agricultural route because it has not lived up to expectations in the past fifty or so years. The rice however, has not been attempted thus far, and it seems to be living up to its predicted results. In the near future, the fields could be viable for more diverse and productive crops. The Lajas valley must only go through this mildly productive period to attain its full potential as a fertile area free of its salty nemesis.

Obviously, I favor the current use of the land that has an assured outcome with small profits over regressing in hopes that tourism will spike and enrich the economy when the “solution” is seasonal. Not to mention that this would mean that if flooding the valley does not work it would effectively ensure that that land could not be used again unless someone wants to invest heavily to drain it again. I just personally see small progress as a better option than the risk of losing the ability to use the land entirely.

This shows how well the rice flourishes even in the salty soil, showing that it is a viable crop even in these harsh conditions

This shows how well the rice flourishes even in the salty soil, showing that it is a viable crop even in these harsh conditions

This image shows just how much land would be affected if the wetlands were flooded again

This image shows just how much land would be affected if the wetlands were flooded again

3 thoughts on ““Drain the Swamp?!”

  1. First of all, I really appreciate the title of this blog post. I wrote about something very similar. However, I really enjoyed the way you shared your prospective on turning the area into another area catered to tourists. I agree that it does not seem to be the best idea, but with the government being such a huge proponent of the project I am not so sure what scientists like Dr. Perez can actually do to stop it. Overall, this was a highlight of the trip, and I think that we should dedicate a fairly large portion of our booth to comparing this situation with others like it or even opposite situations that have happened in the mainland of the United States.

  2. This is something that I wrote about as well because I was really interested in hearing about the different sides of the debate. I also agree with both you and Professor Perez that the valley should be used for agriculture instead of being restored into a lagoon. Even though there are risks to both, I think that this route has fewer, and has a greater potential for reward as well. The debate between rice or lagoon was just a little part of the “33% by 2033” proposal that Professor Perez talked to us about, which is something that I think would be very interesting to document in our booth. Even though the idea of restoring so much of Puerto Rico back to its original form sounds like a great idea, there are many potential problems that a lot of people don’t think about, especially when it comes to agriculture. This is something that I found very interesting and I think that visitors to our booth would be interested as well.

  3. I really enjoyed this post and your informative opinions on the current problem in the Lajas Valley. I agree that transforming the area into a tourist attraction is extremely risky, and not worth it. Keeping in mind the fact that the agriculture sector in Puerto Rico has diminished astronomically in the past years, this is the perfect opportunity to attempt and ignite a comeback. The valley is very large and can accommodate hundreds of new farms, while also providing both new revenue and jobs to the current economy. I think this is a great topic that we can discuss in our booth to attempt to show how many Puerto Ricans, such as Dr. Perez, are working very hard to regain back some of the agricultural dominance the island once held. By explaining this current situation in the Lajas Valley to our viewers, it will allow them to grasp some of history of agriculture in Puerto Rico as well.

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