El Chorro Malaga Reservoir or Conde de Guadalhorce Reservoir

Rafael Benjumea Burín was the author of the project for the Pantano del Chorro or Conde de Guadalhorce reservoir. Anyone who knows the dam will understand perfectly why his contemporaries called Benjumea “the poetic engineer”. His works were described as brilliant because he combined the functionality of an engineering work with respect for the natural environment, harmonising utility with the beauty of the work. The praise of the beauty of the reservoir reached the ears of King Alfonso XIII, who made an official visit on 21 May 1921. The king was so impressed by what he saw that in September of the same year he granted Rafael Benjumea the title of Count of the Guadalhorce, “for him, his children and his legitimate successors”.

But before he arrived here, many things had happened…

At the beginning of the 20th century, Malaga’s electricity supply depended on two foreign companies, which managed to manufacture electricity with steam engines. Two of the main families of the industrial bourgeoisie of Málaga, the Loring and the Heredia, who were related to each other, were the protagonists of a business initiative that culminated in the construction of the El Chorro reservoir, which since 1953 has been called the Conde de Guadalhorce reservoir. It was precisely the first Count of Guadalhorce, the engineer Rafael Benjumea Burín, who understood that the industrial development of the province required the construction of a power station capable of producing enough electricity.

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arc_176943_gRafael Benjumea was married to Isabel Heredia Loring, whose cousin, Jorge Loring Heredia, had obtained the concession for the hydroelectric exploitation of the Guadalhorce River in 1901. In 1903, Jorge Loring, Rafael Benjumea and Francisco Silvela (also married to a Loring Heredia), founded the Sociedad Hidroeléctrica del Chorro, with a capital of two million pesetas, whose purpose was the production of energy without the dependence of any foreign capital. The initial idea was to take advantage of the Salto del Chorro, a drop of some one hundred metres in the river Guadalhorce. Three electrical energy groups were installed with a power of 3,000 hp. The Chorro power station was finished two years later, in the summer of 1905. All the electricity production was already sold in advance.

Despite the good omens with which the company was born, its beginnings were plagued by difficulties. On the one hand, in order to guarantee a regular supply to their customers, they needed to expand the facilities with a large reserve plant, and the company was not economically strong; on the other hand, an unfortunate succession of calamities put the company in a critical situation: in 1905 two of the founders, Francisco Silvela and Jorge Loring, died, which caused a great decline in the confidence of creditors and bondholders; in 1907, torrential rains overflowed a stream, which ended up flooding the plant. When they had barely managed to repair the flood damage, a fire destroyed the facilities.

To save these economic setbacks, Rafael Benjumea had to sell most of his family assets and his wife’s family increased their contribution to the company to the point of selling one of their most beloved properties: the Finca de la Concepción.

El Pantano del Chorro

El caminito del rey decreto de la División Hidráulica | LaGarganta.com @ctrlagargantaThe heavy flooding that Malaga suffered in 1907 led to the creation of the Southern Spain Hydraulic Division, which was created to prevent disasters and ensure the use of water for irrigation. Rafael Benjumea had in mind to build a reservoir on the River Turón that would accumulate enough water to irrigate the entire Guadalhorce valley and guarantee electricity production. Under the 1911 Law on Aid for Hydraulic Works, Benjumea could get up to 50% of the value of the work paid for by the State. But for that, it was necessary that the irrigators were the ones who requested the works and contributed 10% of the cost. Benjumea demonstrated a great capacity for persuasion and organisation, as he was able to carry out the laborious task of contacting the farmers and carrying out the necessary bureaucratic procedures so that, in 1914, the State and the Guadalhorce Agricultural Union signed the deed for the construction of El Chorro reservoir. A Board of Works, belonging to the Ministry of Public Works, was in charge of managing the money contributed by the State and the irrigators. Rafael Benjumea was the engineer who drew up the project and directed the work, which began in 1914.

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