Balance. It’s something much of Baja California Sur is trying to figure out, with Todos Santos in the thick of it.
The balance of people and natural resources is at the crux of so many issues embroiling this town.
Money is also an integral component.
Development is an economic driver for those in the construction trades and for government officials putting their stamp of approval on plans. More people in town also brings cash to local businesses.
The problems, though, include, but are not limited to, an evaporating aquifer, destruction of dunes, and the rewriting of the rules governing development.
The latter has been going on for a few months. Officials in La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur, decided to rewrite the PDU. The Program for Urban Development (PDU) for Todos Santos, El Pescadero, and Las Playitas was published in 2012. It covers more than 30 miles from Elias Calles on the south to Agua Blanca north of Todos Santos. The PDU prohibits any development on primary and secondary dunes.
That document took five years to finalize.
At a meeting this spring between government officials and Todos Santos residents it was revealed the new PDU would be done in five months. The meeting got heated, with accusations of corruption being leveled.
“Rumor is $25,000 (U.S.) will get you a building permit. We don’t have proof of it happening, but why would you do this if there weren’t some kind of reward?” a spokesman for Protect Todos Santos said.
The nonprofit Protect Todos Santos was formed in the last few years to bring light to illegal construction and other issues affecting the area. The group recently hired a criminal attorney to go after people who they believe are acting illegally, while a civil attorney is filing cases in federal court in order to stop building that Protect Todos Santos believes violates the PDU.
Urbanistica was hired to rewrite the Todos Santos PDU as well as PDUs for La Ventana and Las Barrillas on the East Cape.
“I don’t think they are qualified if you look at their project experience. I expect they will produce a terrible product and then La Paz will throw our PDU in the trash and that is what we will be left with, a piece of shit,” according to a member of Protect Todos Santos.
Urbanistica deferred comment to IMPLAN, the government agency that handles development and is in charge of the PDU. Iván Enrique Valencia Duarte was contacted by the Gringo Gazette newspaper, but chose not to respond to an email inquiry.
That means we don’t know why the government wants to rewrite the document, what they don’t like about the current PDU, who initiated this idea, or why locals were not consulted before a decision to create a new PDU was made.
Protect Todos Santos (PTS) members are alarmed with the contents of the second draft of the new PDU that was released in June. One of the main issues was water.
“They devoted a page and half to water. They didn’t even get the chart right. They don’t even understand water,” a PTS official said. “It was wrong in the first and second drafts. It is the most important thing. They are not doing their homework.”
PTS hired Victor Sevilla Unda, professor of Water Science at the Autonomous University in La Paz, and William Sanford, professor in the Department of Geoscience at Colorado State University, to look into the local water situation. This summer a report titled “Evaluation of Groundwater Resources in the Todos Santos Aquifer” was released.
Much of the data came from Conagua, Mexico’s federal water agency that manages the dams and oversees the country’s water resources. In 2020, 30 percent more water was extracted from the aquifer compared to 2007
Considering the growth in the greater Todos Santos area, notably the Las Tunas neighborhood, that percentage is likely higher today.
The report states, “From 2013 to 2020 the rate of extraction doubled and if we extrapolate the rate based upon its recent growth, by 2030 we will be extracting twice as much water as is recharged in an average year.”
It goes on to say, “In addition, climate variability studies suggest that precipitation will decrease, and the frequency of hurricanes will lessen, which will reduce the amount of recharge to the aquifer. This coupled with the increased demand for water resources may cause a significant loss of available water.”
Protest Todos Santos’ summer newsletter said, “We think IMPLAN should know how much water we currently consume and how those numbers will be impacted by their proposed PDU as part of the development process. However, their most recent PDU draft indicates they are not going to do that very necessary calculation, so our plan is to present them with our scientists’ reports and predictions and hope they are incorporated it into the new PDU.
“In the end, desalination may be our only hope unless we find ways to slow development, move water currently used for agriculture to domestic uses, find other ways to store water, and reduce water use through conservation. However, we are skeptical that La Paz will have the money needed to build a plant in Todos Santos. And it is not our first choice for a solution since desalination plants are notorious for using a large amount of fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change, and the salt brine waste created needs to be properly addressed.”
Desalinization plants are expensive; La Paz is spending $165 million (U.S.) for one.
A Protect Todos Santos representative admitted it’s not the Mexican citizens who are the water hogs. Instead, this person said, it’s agriculture and foreigners who have taken up residence in the area. Big houses, pools, landscaping—they are draining the aquifer.
After all, on average Todos Santos receives 6 inches of rain a year. That doesn’t amount to much per person.
The experts who created the water report came up with 15 recommendations ranging from improving monitoring, installing flow meters on extraction wells, upgrading weather stations, identifying groundwater sources outside the basin, creating a groundwater model, and studying the water flow at the Santa Inés Dam.
Protect Todos Santos hopes to work with a university that would want to implement some of the recommendations as a potential research project.
Note: This story first appeared in the Gringo Gazette.