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The Natural Environment

Drainage and Water Resources

The greater part of South America is drained to the Atlantic Ocean by three river systems: the Amazon, Orinoco, and Paraguay-Parana. Each of these large rivers also provides access to the interior. The smaller Sao Francisco River drains northeastern Brazil. Numerous lesser rivers drain the Caribbean and Pacific flanks of the Andes. The most important of these is the Magdalena River and its tributary, the Cauca River. This system, which drains north through Andean valleys in western Colombia to empty into the Caribbean Sea, has also provided a traditional access route to the interior. Scores of short Andean streams have sustained agriculture for centuries in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and northwestern Argentina. Considerable hydroelectric power potential exists in the streams of the Andes and in those of the Guiana and Brazilian Highlands. The Mantaro Valley hydroelectric scheme in the Andes of Peru provides most of Lima's electricity.

South America has few large lakes. Many of the large permanent lakes are situated at relatively high elevations in the Andes. Among the largest are Lake Titicaca and Lake Poopo in Bolivia; Buenos Aires, Argentino, and Nahuel Huapi lakes in Argentina; and Lake Valencia in Venezuela.

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