Water on La Gomera has a before and an after and the inflection point is marked and defined by the year 1993, date on which a preview of the Insular Water Plan was unanimously approved by the Island Council, making La Gomera the Canarian territory with most quantity and quality of water resources.
Many of us who live on this island today still keep memories of the hardships related to water, how the water shortage especially in summer stretched into the winter, marking our lives and worrying us with its need. We recall the bustle to fetch water from springs or in coastal areas to carry water from wells to bring it to the homes.
We who have passed the fifties are also able to remember the arguments between villages over freshwater springs. Who does not remember the hostility between Chipude and Las Hayas on account of a sounding, which was very close to cause a problem of civil order? And even between villages of the same municipality: who does not remember the problems between Erques and El Cercado as a consequence of another sounding, this time at Erques? Or when it comes to springs, who does not know of discussions over the distribution of water at Guadá or Taguluche?
Things were not any better with water for agriculture. Since the beginning of the 20th century the Gomerans and the Ministry of Development and Public Works began to build a series of large dams, at least one in each of the great river gorges of the island. So appears Los Chejelipes, a hydraulic complex formed by three dams – Chejelipes, Izcagüe and Palacios -, which generated agricultural development in the municipality of San Sebastián.
Also the dam of La Encantadora was built with aesthetics keeping a fair correspondence with its usefulness, especially if joined with Los Gallos, Macayo and El Garabato, providing irrigation water for all Vallehermoso. And the dam of Las Rosas or Amalahuigue, as called in the Ministry, was added having the highest capacity on the island, although it is placed in one of the smaller northern basins which is why the transfer tunnel of El Cedro was needed to fill the reservoir, or the dam of Mulagua which together with the Liria dam provides irrigation water for Hermigua. In the end 33 large dams were completed which made La Gomera the island having the highest density of dams in the world.
The number was high, however the reservoir volume was not much, just four and a half million cubic meters of water, which were not sufficient to supply the entire countryside and made that summers were a real agony, especially if the winter was delayed. The problem conditioned the development of the economies of the island and, being more explicit, their survival. Who can doubt today that if we had had water for the southern hills this island would not have lost half of its population in the fifties?
No island has seen its population undermined to a half in just a decade, perhaps because no one has been through the scarcity of water to subsist as happened to La Gomera. The diaspora investment begins with the Hydrological Plan, prepared by a team of technicians led by engineer Carlos Soler Liceras, who proposed a drastic change in the way to obtain water – by tapping groundwater – both to fix the transitory shortage and to meet the demand of future.
The objectives have been achieved. La Gomera has become the Canary island with most water available as per habitant, at the lowest price in the whole archipelago and with a quality of bottled water. No one but La Gomera can boast about it. And yet, we must remain committed to good use and conservation of water resources. The Town Councils, Island Council, Regional Government and State together with citizens and irrigation communities need to share a policy which aims to consolidate, guarantee and improve the supply, quality and saving of water.
Casimiro Curbelo – The Chairman of the Island Council