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Epecuen, an Incredible Story
Epecuen was (or is?) a small resort Village on the coast of the Epecuen lagoon in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The place was flooded and totally destroyed in 1985, today the water is receding and the remains of the town can be seen once again. This is a short version of the incredible events that lead to the catastrophic destruction of the village. I'm grateful to the former citizens of Epecuen that told me their stories, it would be impossible to know the truth without their kind help.
The village of Epecuen was settled on the margin of the homonymous lagoon in the early 20's. The lagoon is the last in a series of chained lagoons in the west of Buenos Aires. These lagoons present a natural occurrence of dry and wet cycles. Being Epecuen the last lagoon in the chain means that water can only leave the lagoon by evaporation. As a result the water is very salty, reaching 100 times the salinity of the sea and even saltier than the dead sea.
The salinity and abundance of minerals popularized the village as a spa for thermal baths and to treat the symptoms of several diseases. Hotels and shops were build to attend a growing flow of tourism from nearby towns and later from the city of Buenos Aires itself. The village quickly became popular as a therapeutic resort and a vacation village reaching its golden age in the late 70's and early 80's.
In the 70's the chained Lagoons were in the middle of a dry cycle and the waters receded from Epecuen, work started to build channels and gates to drive water towards the lagoons both to fill the Epecuen Lagoon and also to irrigate the crop fields around the area. This was critical not only to the incipient tourist industry for Epecuen but also to the producers that worked the crop fields in the area.
When a wet cycle started Epecuen reached a critical state as there were no plans to alleviate the level of water in the lagoon, this was in part a political decision as the crop fields generated most of the income of the local population of several bigger neighbor towns like Carhue. Sadly, the population of Epecuen was never alerted, they were never told about the impending disaster. Most of the citizens had no real plans and there were a few that just bought their lands or started a business in the town only months before the flooding.
With the level of water already in a critical state due to heavy rains and winds a seiche finally overcome the defenses and the water entered Epecuen. Evacuation was started and there were no casualties but plenty of material losses. In just a few days the whole village was flooded and by 1996 there were 10 meters of water above the streets of the village.
Hydraulic works were finally completed to provide both a way to flood or drain the system of lagoons as needed but it was too late for Epecuen. A dry cycle started and the waters receded leaving the remains of the town at ground level. Today people can walk around the streets of the village and contemplate the town after more than 25 years submerged in salty water. You can find plates, silverware, ads and objects in the ruins as everything had to be abandoned almost untouched during the evacuation. It's a ghost town that was, is and never will be.
At this time the water is coming back to its higher salinity level which is the host of a very special ecosystem that can only be found in a few places in the world because there are only a few species that thrive in such an extreme environment.
The village will never be reconstructed, wet cycles are needed for the crop fields that sustain the population of this area of Buenos Aires so the remains of Epecuen will flood and dry periodically in a rhythm dictated by both Nature and a series of gates and pumps that now control the water level.
These photos show the night sky above this place, unique as it can be. A collection of dreams and memories that lost a battle against Nature and politics at the same time. It was never a fair fight.
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