Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico – We have entered an era where manmade climate change isn’t just recognized by people living near melting glaciers; we’re starting to see it here in Puerto Vallarta too, with extreme weather events like record-breaking rainfall and flooding, and stronger, more destructive hurricanes like Nora.
These disturbing weather phenomena capture people’s attention and provoke thoughts of despair and hopelessness for a beleaguered Puerto Vallarta. The antiquated infrastructure in Puerto Vallarta proved no match for nature’s fury, with collapsed buildings and bridges and loss of life creating a catastrophe for the city of Puerto Vallarta.
Unchecked and fool-hardy development of the floodplain of the Cuale, Ameca, and Pitillal Rivers against universally understood environmental norms, cannot continue. The failure of our city’s decrepit infrastructure and unsupervised, shoddy construction is also an international publicity failure for Vallarta and our tourism-based local economy.
Our environmental re-awakening after such a catastrophe affects decision-making regarding travel plans and vacation tourism spending. People will avoid Vallarta if the buildings and other structures such as bridges are unsound. The City of Puerto Vallarta brand must be built to focus on nature and preservation of the environment and not only nightlife and real estate.
We must insist local leaders prioritize and move immediately to create a more environmentally responsible city. There must be transparency at the building department and enforcement of building codes without illegal exceptions being given to build in the federal zone (along all rivers in Mexico) where, by law, permanent cement structures are not allowed.
Is Puerto Vallarta a unique tropical paradise brimming with God-given nature, or just a sponge to be squeezed?
Our responsibility means protecting our most unspoiled natural habitats, including the Río Los Horcones Canyon, currently threatened by an unneeded hydroelectric project. The hydroelectric dam and the proposed above-ground metal pipeline to connect them would convert our city’s only natural showcase of magnificent, pristine Mexican biodiversity – currently being shared with visiting tourists – into a depressing ride next to kilometers of industrial-sized steel pipeline.
We have just seen, first hand, the dangerous and deadly consequences of altering the flow of a river. The hydroelectric dam is a diversionary story being sold to citizens of Vallarta, while this vital river is at risk of being diverted into a giant pipe for private use. The stolen river water will be used for more and more unregulated, unsustainable development, financially benefiting only a few of Puerto Vallarta’s elite, to the detriment of everyone else: short-term jobs, short-term money, and permanent environmental damage.
The Río Los Horcones Canyon is a place of inspirational wildness inside the city limits of Puerto Vallarta. From its towering jungle cliffs to its crystalline waters sheltering abundant wildlife, including tropical otters and jaguars, it is the most valuable natural tourism asset in Puerto Vallarta and must not be sold in a Get-Rich-Quick-Scheme.
The Municipal Tourism Office acknowledges the Río Los Horcones as an essential tourism asset, but lacks any power to stop this project. The small amount of electricity that the dam might potentially provide can never come close to the severe damage to our tourism-based economy and the livelihoods in Puerto Vallarta that will be lost if the canyon is destroyed.
Once the jewel of the Pacific Riviera, Acapulco committed suicide by allowing developers and corrupt politicians to do exactly what is happening in Puerto Vallarta today. Publicly well-known private interests, supported by corrupt government members, are trying to steal the Horcones river water committing an environmental crime of the highest order that must be opposed by everyone who wants Vallarta to have vital and thriving tourism for years to come.
No manmade dam would have withstood the rain of Hurricane Nora, and a failing dam would have released a tsunami of death upon the residents of Boca de Tomatlan and most probably collapse Federal Highway 200, in exactly the same way the road to Paso Ancho collapsed.
Furthermore, thousands of residents agree with the recently launched online petition to protect and conserve the Río Los Horcones Canyon and declare it off-limits to real estate predation. This petition, launched in June 2020 has been signed by over 800,000 people – making it one of the most successful petitions in the history of Puerto Vallarta and one of the most critical environmental petitions in all of Mexico.
Public support is clearly not for the hydroelectric project but for the protection of the river. To view and sign the petition, go to: change.org/RioHorcones (Scroll down for English.)
Puerto Vallarta has very few intact natural areas to entice vacation-goers from all over the world. Cities that place short-term profits over their environment’s health and the safety of visitors and citizens will doom themselves sooner rather than later.
With so much competition to attract tourists, consumers are looking for destinations that prioritize preserving their ecosystems and observing building codes. Those destinations that commit to future generations by conserving local habitats using environmentally sound building practices will earn long-term success.
We must heed nature’s warnings. Storms like Hurricane Nora and Tropical Storm Narda in 2019 are becoming the norm, and they sound the alarm. Those city leaders wishing to ignore the aftermath of Narda and Nora are putting lives at risk.
Written by Ancelmo Patiño Franco for Defensores de Boca de Tomatlán A.C.