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Factors critical to the formulation and execution of the Laja Diguillin transbasin diversion project




Priest, John E., author
Dunner, Osvaldo R., author
U.S. Committee on Irrigation and Drainage, publisher

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It too often is the case that transbasin water transfer projects, worldwide, could be beneficial to an entire region and are well engineered and yet will never be constructed. This paper reviews social, political, financial, economic, and environmental factors that were dealt with in an effective manner by strong project advocates to realize the construction of the Laja Diguillin Irrigation Project. The Project is located in Region VIII of southern Chile. It stretches across nearly 100 kilometers of stream-dissected terrain to the south of the City of Chillan. The newly built primary transmission canal was designed to convey 1400 cusecs (40 cumecs) of diverted river flow from the Laja River, across six intermediate streams, to discharge some 28 miles (45 kilometers) distant into a pool created by a rubber dam on the Diguillin River. From this pool at the town of Bulnes the water is to be further diverted, along with flow of the Diguillin River, into a system of large primary irrigation canals. This transbasin diversion project was designed to provide economic uplift to the farmers of the region who had not participated in the near countrywide economic boom of the 199Os. Thus the Chilean Government chose to plan, design, and build the project while still maintaining the principle that the private sector should own, operate, and maintain irrigation projects. Additionally, the Directorate of Irrigation of the Ministry of Public Works was empowered, after some 50 years without designing a major irrigation project, to carry out with government financing the Laja Diguillin Project. The coalescence of factors that the Ministry recognized and made effective accommodations for may be grouped into four categories. They were: 1) advocacy, which was strongly provided by Directorate personnel; 2) social, characterized by the challenge to integrate newly enfranchised irrigators with existing water users and their organizations; 3) government, which as a dynamic emergent democracy with an established bureaucracy of skilled technocrats and economists was flexible and able to adopt new or innovative approaches; and 4) competing interests for water and land, embodied in three groups who actively opposed the project for environmental and commercial reasons.


Presented at the 2001 USCID water management conference, Transbasin water transfers on June 27-30, 2001 in Denver, Colorado.

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