Cleaning up the Juanacatlan Falls, the “Niagara of Mexico”

 Other  Comments Off on Cleaning up the Juanacatlan Falls, the “Niagara of Mexico”
Jan 142016

Geo-Mexico has repeatedly lamented the sad state of the Juanacatlán Falls, the “Niagara of Mexico”, near Guadalajara. More than a century ago, they were considered a national treasure. Indeed, in 1899, they were among the earliest landscapes to be featured on Mexican postage stamps.

In 2012, we reported that Greenpeace demands action to clean up Mexico’s surface waters. Greenpeace activists chose to protest at the Juanacatlán Falls to call attention to the poor quality of Mexico’s rivers and lakes. The activists cited government statistics showing that 70% of Mexico’s surface water was contaminated, mostly from toxic industrial dumping, rather than municipal sewage.

Greenpeace activists at El Salto de Juanacatlán, 22 March 2012. Photo: Greenpeace.

Greenpeace activists at El Salto de Juanacatlán, 22 March 2012. Photo: Greenpeace.

Last year, we returned to the theme and looked at how the Juanacatlán Falls had been transformed from the “Niagara of Mexico” to the “Silent River”.

Our concluding paragraph on that occasion bears repeating:

Is it too much to hope that the government, corporations and society in the El Salto area can all come together to remedy this appalling tale of willful mismanagement? Local residents are right to insist on the enforcement of existing water quality regulations and on the implementation of remedial measures to reverse the decline of this major river and its once-famous waterfalls. Even more importantly, urgent measures are needed to reverse the deteriorating public health situation faced by all those living or working nearby.

Finally, some good news. Author and activist John Pint, who has done far more than most to publicize the scenic wonders of Western Mexico (including dozens of places that fall way outside the usual tourist guides) reports that the inflow from the 66-km-long Ahogado River, one of the rivers that feeds into the Santiago River just before the Juanacatlán Falls is being cleaned up, with a dramatic, positive impact on the beauty of the Falls themselves. According to Pint’s first-hand report and photographs – Is Guadalajara’s most infamous waterfall now clean? – the smelly, toxic foam that has marred the Falls for decades has become a thing of the past. While this does not mean the water is completely clean, it is certainly an encouraging start.

The Ahogado River itself continues to receive pollutants, and its water remains heavily contaminated, but a  300-million-peso treatment plant, which apparently began operations in 2012, is removing some of the worse contaminants prior to the river joining the Santiago River. There is still a lot of work to be done here if the Juanacatlán Falls are going to be restored to their former pristine beauty, but Geo-Mexico is delighted to hear that progress is (finally) being made.

What a shame that it took the death of eight-year-old Miguel Ángel López in 2008, and years of adverse effects on the health of local inhabitants, before federal and state authorities took decisive action. Later this year, Geo-Mexico hopes to revisit the Falls for the first time in twenty years to see just how much they’ve improved. Watch this space!

Related posts:

Mexico’s tallest waterfalls

 Other, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Mexico’s tallest waterfalls
Aug 032015

As we saw in “How long is Mexico’s coastline?“, geographical “facts” and “records” are often not quite as simple to determine as might appear at first sight.

Take waterfalls for example. Mexico’s “highest” waterfalls are not necessarily the same as Mexico’s “tallest” waterfalls, since height refers to elevation, rather than stature. I’m not sure which is Mexico’s highest waterfall, but assume it is likely to be a small waterfall near the summit of one of Mexico’s many major volcanic peaks.

Mexico’s tallest waterfall, on the other hand, is well-known, or is it? Older sources still list the Cascada de Basaseachic in the Copper Canyon region of northern Mexico as the country’s tallest waterfall. That waterfall is 246 meters (807 feet) tall, according to geographer Robert Schmidt, a calculation subsequent confirmed by measurements made by members of a Mexican climbing expedition.

This short Postandfly video shows the Basaseachic Waterfall from the air:

The Basaseachic Waterfall is normally considered to operate year-round, though very little water flows over it on some occasions during the dry season.

In terms of total drop, however, and if we include waterfalls that are seasonal, the Basaseachic Waterfall is overshadowed by the nearby Cascada de Piedra Bolada (Volada). The Piedra Bolada Waterfall, has a total drop of 453 meters (1486 feet), but flows only during the summer rainy season. It is much less accessible, and its true dimensions were only worked out for the first time by an expedition as recently as 1995 by members of the Speology Group of Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, led by Carlos Lazcano.

This latter sections of this amateur video of the Piedra Bolada Waterfall show some of the amazing scenery in this remote area of Mexico:

Curiously, there is some debate as to whether this waterfall should be called Cascada de Piedra Volada (which would translate as the “Flying Stone Waterfall”) or Cascada de Piedra Bolada (“Round Stone Waterfall”). According to members of the Speology Group of Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, its true name is definitely Piedra Bolada, a name referring to a spherical stone, and used in addition for the local stream and for the nearest human settlement.

So, which is Mexico’s tallest waterfall? Well, it all depends…

Related posts:

Earliest landscapes on Mexican postage stamps

 Other  Comments Off on Earliest landscapes on Mexican postage stamps
Mar 192010

The earliest landscapes to be depicted on Mexican postage stamps were in 1899. The set included these magnificent images of The Juanacatlán Falls, popularly known as the “Niagara of Mexico”, on the 50 cent stamp, and of Popocatapetl volcano on the 1 peso stamp.

The Juanacatlán Falls are on the River Santiago, shortly after it leaves Lake Chapala on its way to carve the deep Oblatos Canyon on the northern edge of Mexico’s second city, Guadalajara. In 1899, these falls were considered to be the second largest waterfall in North America (in terms of volume of flow) after Niagara Falls. A bridge with 24 arches spans the falls and joins the villages of Juanacatlán and El Salto (The Waterfall).

There are two major volcanoes near Mexico City. The first is the still active Popocatepetl (“Popo”), which rises to 5500 meters (18,045 feet) and is shown on the 1899 1 peso stamp. Alongside it, the dormant volcanic peak of Iztaccihuatl is 5220 m (17,126 ft) high. Both are clearly visible from Mexico City on a smog-free day. The southern suburbs of Mexico City are overshadowed by a third, smaller volcano, Ajusco, which reaches 3930 m (12,894 ft).

These beautiful 1899 stamps, designed and printed in the UK, are considered to be among the gems of Mexican philately.

Mexico’s many volcanoes are discussed in chapter 2 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.  Water issues are examined in chapter 7, and environmental trends and issues are the subject of chapter 30.