Elqui Valley in the Coquimbo Region in the Norte Chico of Chile is characterised by a semi-arid climate with annual rainfalls of only 90-100 mm. And yet, the ground of the valley is highly utilised farmland: of vinyards, oranges, avocados and, well, yes, more vinyards, producing the popular Pisco.
It's one of the most amazing landscapes I've seen so far. The blue of the sky in autumn heat, soft pink/yellow/red mountains filled with cacti vegetation enclosing lime green plantation. Such contrast! And, with Elqui Valley ranking as the top spot for clear night skies (300+ days pa without any clouds), it air sparkles and vibrates.
The ecological system is designed around the supply of freshwater through Río Elquí and its two contributories Río Claro and Río Turbío - with the latter passing through one of large mining areas of the country and thus carrying high loads of heavy metals.
Over recent years, however, heavy and erratic rainfalls - crazy rains, lluevias locas - that coincides with the El Niño phenomena threatens communities and agricultural production. It loosens debris from the hillslopes and causes dangerous debris flows into the valleys. Climate change - and with it an increased and more intense occurrence of El Niño as well as in the higher variability of melt water flow with the recession of many of the Andean glaciers which supply the original water source of Río Elquí is one reason for this. Anoether reason lies in the higher intensity of agricultural production on hill slopes as well as more intensive goat herding along the slopes.
- A map of the region is here
- An article on rain fall variability and vulnerability of the Elquí Valle is here