Mexican Environmental Secretary Promises To ‘Transform’ Rio Sonora

By Kendal Blust
Published: Thursday, December 19, 2019 - 5:19pm
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Members of the Sonora River Basin Committees attend a meeting with Mexican Secretary of Environment Victor Toledo in Ures, Sonora on Dec. 18, 2019.
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
The Rio Sonora flows through the town of Baviácora, Sonora, on July 30, 2019.

Mexican Secretary of Environment Victor Toledo promised to transform the Sonora River Valley from the site of a disaster into a region of hope.

In August 2014, Grupo México’s Buenavista copper mine spilled nearly 11 million gallons of toxic waste into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers. It’s considered the worst mining disaster in Mexican history.

"These huge companies cause environmental destruction all over the world," Toledo said during a press conferences Wednesday in Hermosillo after visiting the town of Ures in the Rio Sonora Valley.

Toledo called on the company to use its "enormous earnings" to resolve ongoing environmental and health issues in the Rio Sonora caused by the mining spill, adding that the company's earnings last year amounted to more than three times the budget for Mexico's Environmental Ministry.

"The least that any company can do that's considered humane, is to share its earnings," he said.

He added that citizens groups, all levels of government and scientists also need to be involved in resolving the problems in the Rio Sonora, and said there would be scientific forums in Sonora to resolve inconsistencies in the data.

But many residents say they’ve been promised remediation for more than five years. What they want now is a clear plan with concrete actions and a timeline.

"We hear the discourse and promises of justice from the president, the secretaries and other authorities, but we still don't know how they are going to do these things," said Norberto Bustamante of the river valley town Huépac, according to a press release from the nonprofit PODER and the Sonora River Basin Committees, which organized after the 2014 spill. "We need a plant that tells us when and how they are going to ensure access to clean water and health."

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Thursday that a plan would be forthcoming on Monday, Dec. 23, after authorities were able to convene about their visit to the Sonora River Valley.

The Mexican government has been responding in recent weeks to several reports detailing unresolved issues in the Sonora River Valley.

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