Water factories of the high Colombian mountains: Páramo as 'infrastructural nature'

Santiago Martínez Medina
Universidad el Bosque, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia; santiagommo@gmail.com

Hanne Cottyn
History Department, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium; hanne.cottyn@ugent.be

Ana María Garrido
University of Florida, Gainesville, USA; am.garrido15@gmail.com

Joshua Kirshner
Department of Environment and Geography, University of York, York, UK; joshua.kirshner@york.ac.uk

Rory O’Bryen
Faculty of Modern & Medieval Languages & Linguistics, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK; rro20@cam.ac.uk

ABSTRACT: Páramo is a term imported from Spain to the northern Andes to refer to uninhabited, barren, mountainous areas. This notion has, in more recent times, acquired new meanings. Today, the páramo is known as a high mountain tropical ecosystem of strategic importance to carbon storage, water provision, and biodiversity. In Colombia, the páramos located around Bogotá have been central in the emergence and consolidation of conceptualisations of the páramo as a strategic ecosystem. In close relation to their importance for the country’s first large-scale water infrastructures to supply urbanizing populations, they are today imagined as fábricas de agua, or 'water factories'. In this article, we propose the notion of 'double support' to capture the coordinated work between water intake from the páramo and environmental conservation of the páramo as a situated articulation of the concept of 'infrastructural nature'. We trace the emergence of the páramo as infrastructural nature through two partly overlapping trajectories of what we define as 'infrastructuralisation', the first driven by the work of water engineers, the second materialising in the work of natural scientists. While these trajectories do not exhaust the complex historical process that gives rise to the “páramo as we know it today”, they do allow us to grasp contemporary understandings of the páramo as a “marriage of convenience”, whose stability should not be taken for granted.

KEYWORDS: páramo, infrastructure, water, nature conservation, Colombia