Guyana is a water-rich country. The numerous rivers flow into the Atlantic Ocean, generally in a northward direction. A number of rivers in the western part of the country, however, flow eastward into the Essequibo River, draining the Kaieteur Plateau. The Essequibo, the country's major river, runs from the Brazilian border in the south to a wide delta west of Georgetown. The rivers of eastern Guyana cut across the coastal zone, making east-west travel difficult, but they also provide limited water access to the interior. Waterfalls generally limit water transport to the lower reaches of each river. Some of the waterfalls are spectacular; for example, Kaieteur Falls on the Potaro River drops 226 meters, more than four times the height of Niagara Falls.
Drainage throughout most of Guyana is poor and river flow sluggish because the average gradient of the main rivers is only one meter every five kilometers. Swamps and areas of periodic flooding are found in all but the mountainous regions, and all new land projects require extensive drainage networks before they are suitable for agricultural use. The average square kilometer on a sugar plantation, for example, has six kilometers of irrigation canals, eighteen kilometers of large drains, and eighteen kilometers of small drains. These canals occupy nearly one-eighth of the surface area of the average sugarcane field. Some of the larger estates have more than 550 kilometers of canals; Guyana itself has a total of more than 8,000 kilometers. Even Georgetown is below sea level and must depend on dikes for protection from the Demerara River and the Atlantic Ocean.
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