A new watercourse is playing havoc with farmland and roads and even threatening a city. The new, now enormous river appeared overnight after an intense deluge that occurred in 2015. Since then its water level has continued rising and now it is a deep and wide river; Rio Nuevo. By now it is 15-miles (25km) long. At its deepest point, it measures more than 60 metres wide and 25 metres deep.
After a night of heavy rainfall, Ana Risatti woke to an ominous roar outside her home. Mistaking the noise for a continuation of the night’s downpour, she stepped outside to look.
“I nearly fainted when I saw what it really was,” said Risatti, 71. Instead of falling from the sky, the water she heard was rushing down a deep gully it had carved overnight just beyond the wire fence around her home.
“The roar was terrifying,” said Risatti, remembering that morning three years ago. “The land had opened up like a canyon. Water was pushing through as far as I could see. Huge mounds of earth, grass and trees were being carried along the water surface.”
The ravine that carved its way so dramatically across Risatti’s farm that night has by now grown 15-miles (25km) long. At its deepest point, it measures more than 60 metres wide and 25 metres deep.
The largest of several new water courses, the Río Nuevo (New river) runs through Cuenca del Morro, a groundwater basin with a mild incline covering 373,000 hectares (nearly 1,500 sq miles) of flatlands in the province of San Luis.
Until the early 1990s, the Morro basin was a patchwork of water-absorbing forests and grasslands, but they are mostly gone, replaced by maize and soya beans.
The sudden appearance of a network of new rivers in Argentina’s central province of San Luis has puzzled scientists, worried environmentalists and disheartened farmers. It has also raised urgent questions over the environmental cost of Argentina’s dependence on soya beans, its main export crop.
Argentina is the world’s third largest soya bean producing nation, after the US and Brazil, and accounts for 18% of global production. In 2016, combined exports of soya beans, soya meal and soya bean oil made up 31% of the country’s total exports.
“Argentina is a banana republic where soya bean is the new banana,” says Jobbágy. “Without soya bean our farms couldn’t survive – and the country couldn’t survive either.