Paraguay River is a major waterway of South America with a watershed of 428,846 square miles and a length of 1,584 miles between its source in Mato Grosso, Brazil, and its confluence with the Paraná River near the Argentine city of Corrientes. A narrowing near Corumbá, Brazil, caused the formation of an enormous swamp—the Gran Pantanal—the largest wildlife refuge of central South America. Flooded from April through June by the high waters of the Paraguay River, it provides nesting grounds for migratory birds and breeding places for the South American alligator, the jacaré. However, the growth in the number of Brazilian ranchers has been decreasing the area of this natural refuge.
The river serves as a national boundary between Brazil and Bolivia, Bolivia and Paraguay, and Paraguay and Argentina. During the Conquest and the colonial period, the river was the gate of penetration into the southern edge of the continent's center for conquistadores who were searching for the King of the Silver Mountains, a legendary figure from whom the Río de la Plata derived its name. Spanish settlements sprang up along the river, such as Corumbá, Concepción, Asunción, and Formosa, which achieved greater importance than the Spanish foundations on the middle course of the Paraná River. Today, settlements on the shores of the river are centers of smuggling and drug trafficking, particularly between Bolivia and Brazil. The river is navigable as far as Asunción, as a northward prolongation of the Paraná-Río de la Plata waterway. This makes it an important shipping corridor, as it provides a much-needed Atlantic coast port for Bolivia and Paraguay. Many locals make their living fishing on the river, and its waters irrigate area agricultural ventures.
Since 1997 the Paraguay River has been at the center of an environmental controversy in the region. The area governments sought to develop the Paraguay into an industrial waterway system, and to build hydroelectric dams along the river. However, the Paraguay is an essential part of the Pantanal wetlands, the world's largest tropical wetland ecosystem. The proposed development would significantly lower water levels and damage the complex environment.
See alsoParaná River .
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CÉsar N. Caviedes