Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Wheater H., Peach D., Suarez F., Munoz J. (2023)

Understanding the Silala River-Scientific insights from the dispute over the status and use of the waters of the Silala (Chile v. Bolivia)

Revista : Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews-Water
Tipo de publicación : ISI Ir a publicación


The flows of surface water and groundwater from the Andes to the Atacama Desert are a vital source of freshwater, supporting ecosystems and human activities, but few substantive studies have addressed the hydrological and hydrogeological functioning of these systems. A dispute between Chile and Bolivia concerning the transboundary Silala River, recently heard before the International Court of Justice, The Hague, provided a unique opportunity for new scientific studies, reviewed in this Special Issue. First, findings from field studies that address the geological and geomorphological evolution of the Silala River basin and its current status, the key hydrological processes (including infiltration, actual evaporation from wetlands and alluvial plains, and surface water-groundwater interactions), and the hydrogeological characterization of the major aquifers are reviewed. The dispute arose because Bolivia disagreed that the Silala was a transboundary river, subject to international law. As the Court proceedings evolved, this was accepted by Bolivia, but effects on surface flows of historical channelization in the Bolivian headwater wetlands remained a point of legal and technical disagreement. Bolivia asserted large increases in surface flow, based on modeling by their consultants, DHI. Chile held that these effects are small. In the second part of this paper, we summarize the modeling evidence. Chile’s use of DHI’s models, and its own hydrological and groundwater modeling of the basin, fully support Chile’s position. We conclude with discussion of the Court’s judgment, the challenges of physically-based modeling of small changes in complex systems, and associated implications for judicial practice.This article is categorized under:Human Water > Water GovernanceScience of Water > Hydrological ProcessesScience of Water > Water and Environmental Change