Agua y Cuencas

Las Historias Detalladas (Basados en visitas de campo y entrevistas extensas)

Las cápsulas (lista)

  • SudáfricaTrabajando por Agua – Al quitar árboles exóticos de las cuencas, renacen arroyos, incrementa el abasto de agua y se generan empleos.
  • UgandaEl Pozo de Ryan – Un muchacho de seis años inicia un movimiento para segura agua potable en África.
  • ZimbabweAgricultura hidráulica – Mediante “agricultura hidráulica” la granja de Phiri Maseko es un paraíso que resiste sequías durante años.
  • China – Gansu – Captación Pluvial – La captación pluvial en una zona árida tiene múltiples beneficios para una region susceptible a sequías.
  • China – Fuzhou – Tratamiento de Aguas Residuales con Ocean Arks – Un innovador sistema de tratamiento de aguas residuales restaura la calidad de vida a lo largo de un contaminado canal urbano.
  • EUA – California – Distrito de Conservación de Agua y Control de Inundaciones del Condado Napa – El condado Napa trabaja con el principio “ríos vivos” en su plan de control de inundaciones.
  • EUA – Louisiana – Estero Nacional Barataria-Terrebonne – Un programa de gestión cooperativa regional revierte la degradación ambiental en el estero más grande de EUA.
  • EUA – New York (New York City) – Protección de Cuenca – La protección de la cuenca es una alternativa rentable a una costosa planta de tratamiento para mejorar la decreciente calidad del agua en la región.
  • EUA – Varias localidades – Fitoremediación – Plantas y microbios utilizan procesos naturales para purificar aguas residuales.
  • Canadá – British Columbia – La Nación Tsleil-Waututh – Una tribu indígena ayuda a restaurar una cuenca degradada, con amplios beneficios ecológicos y económicos.
  • Rusia – Lago Baikal – Impidiendo Polución con Uranio – Una ONG lucha para proteger al lago más antiguo y más profundo del mundo de un oleoducto y una planta de enriquecimiento de uranio.
  • AustraliaUna Casa Sustentable in la Ciudad – Una pequeña familia urbana remodela su cien-años-de-edad casa para lograr autosuficiencia respecto al agua y la energía.
  • EcuadorLa Batalla contra Chevron Texaco – La batalla legal sin precedentes de una comunidad buscando justicia tras lo que se ha llamado una de los desastres ambientales más catastróficos de la historia.
  • México – Jalisco – Saneamiento del Río Ayuquila – Las comunidades en la cuenca Río Ayuquila se enfrentaron a la deforestación y polución fluvial para impulsar su paisaje en un camino de salud ecológica.
  • Tailandia – Pak Mun Dam – Reapertura Experimental de una Presa – La reapertura experimental de la presa Pak Mun Dam revela los costos sociales y ecológicos de las megapresas, y los beneficios de los ríos a las numerosas comunidades que dependen de ellos.

Sudáfrica – Trabajando por Agua

by Amanda Suutari

This innovative, multiagency program combines one of the most ambitious and expensive IAP (invading alien plants) eradication initiatives ever undertaken with a social welfare program aimed at poverty and other legacies of apartheid. It is a model for combating IAPs in other parts of the world, and the program’s director is also chair of the GISP (Global Invasive Species Project).

IAPs are a major threat to ecosystems not only in South Africa but internationally; for example it is estimated IAPs cost the US $7 billion a year. In South Africa, American pine, Australian blue gum tree and other species of trees and aquatic plants from the Americas, Asia, Europe and Australia were introduced intentionally for commercial forestry, or accidentally through agriculture and development. Originally covered in low-biomass fynbos (or native shrub) vegetation, some 8% of South Africa’s landscape is colonized by vast swaths of woody vegetation. While it may seem counterintuitive to restore a watershed by removing trees and aquatic plants, these IAPs consume 9% of the nation’s runoff, drying up watersheds, reducing biodiversity, triggering mass extinctions of native plants, and contributing to soil erosion.

With these issues in mind, the newly post-apartheid South African government launched the program “Working for Water” in 1995. It was deemed less expensive to clear hillsides and riverbanks of invasive species than to build new dams, and the government began a job creation scheme, employing 21,000 people, targeting those with reduced job opportunities, to do just that. These included the poor from the townships and settlements, the disabled, ex-prisoners, youth (under 23 years), and those with HIV/AIDS, more than half of whom were female.

Working with various government agencies, other programs were launched:

  1. Access to child-care facilities for each project, with donations of toys coming from local charities.
  2. Educational workshops on HIV/AIDS, family planning, health care for workers.
  3. Development of micro-enterprise to optimize use of cleared wood, including crafts, furniture, mulch, charcoal and smoke chips. Training was given to develop entrepreneurship opportunities at all levels from design to marketing of products.
  4. Biological control of invasive species.
  5. Wetland rehabilitation projects.
  6. Fire control programs, and rehabilitation of an area devastated by fire.

On the sites, work is challenging and sometimes dangerous, and pay is low, but the program has garnered public support, political will, and funding at a time when competition in the new political regime for social welfare funding is fierce. At the policy level, reforming water management is central to South Africa’s economic and political reconstruction, and policies like this one are being created to redress past injustices, inefficiencies and environmental abuses.

Services or benefits include: Poverty alleviation, water regulation, erosion control, social relations, economic opportunities, education/services for women, disease control.

For more information visit the World Resources Institute.

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Uganda – El Pozo de Ryan

by Amanda Suutari

When six-year-old Ryan Hreljac heard about the many children in Africa who do not have clean water to drink he decided to do something to help.

Ryan, from a small town near Ottawa in Canada, listened as his teacher explained that $70 would provide a well and became determined to raise the money. That night he told his parents that he needed $70. His mother, Susan, said he could do extra chores around the house. Ryan vacuumed, washed windows, and, with amazing determination, patiently worked, saving every dollar in an old cookie tin. It took him from January 1998 to the end of April to collect $70.

Susan took him to Watercan’s office to hand over his donation. Executive Director, Nicole Bosley explained that $70 would only buy a hand pump. It would take $2,000 to drill a well. Undeterred, Ryan replied, “I’ll just do more chores then.”

When he had raised $700, Watercan invited him to meet Gizaw Shibru, director for Uganda at Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief, who actually dug and maintained the wells. Shibru asked Ryan to choose the site for his well. Ryan wanted it to be near a school and they pinpointed Angolo in North Uganda, a village whose closest water was 5 kilometers away.

In July, 2000, Ryan and his parents visited Angolo. Ryan looked about in amazement at the 5,000 children lining the route to the school, calling “Ryan, Ryan, Ryan!” “They know my name!” he cried in astonishment. “Everybody for a hundred kilometers knows your name, Ryan,” said Shibru.

They arrived at the well next to the school’s vegetable garden. It bore the inscription “Ryan’s Well, formed by Ryan Hreljac for Community of Angolo Primary School”. Ryan’s penpal Jimmy led him to cut the ribbon and the celebrations began.

After this project was completed, Ryan had a new goal: “I want everyone in Africa to have clean water.” Since, Ryan has collected more than 2 million dollars, and financed more than 120 water and sanitation projects in 9 African countries. Friendships have grown and innumerable people have been inspired by his example.

“I’m just a normal boy,” Ryan says when anyone asks about his achievements. Although many people would disagree with this statement, it is very true. He plays soccer, basketball and hockey. He enjoys reading, playing Nintendo and swimming as well. He has friends in the elementary school he attends, including dedicated volunteers like Jack who, like Ryan, plans to be a water engineer when he grows up. He loves to visit his Nana and his cousins in Ontario’s Niagara region and his grandparents near Deep River, Ontario. Ryan plays with his brothers Jordan and Keegan and with dog Riley. He has been writing to his African pen pal Jimmy Akana, who you may have seen with him on the cover of Reader’s Digest.

Throughout, Ryan’s family has been very supportive of his efforts to get clean water to Africa. Older brother Jordan sets up most of Ryan’s audiovisual presentations and little brother Keegan has licked hundreds of stamps for thank you letters and notes that have been sent around the world.

Ryan has received many awards and has been speaking at United Nations summits. But the best example that youth make the difference is shown by the fact that it is in schools, where children are not just applauding, but learning from Ryan’s experiences and are inspired to take action, join the quest and collect money in support of Ryan’s Well Foundation, caring for their local water resources and learning more about global issues.

His website offers materials to include his story in classroom activities.

Visit –

Source: GlobalNet wto

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Zimbabwe – Agricultura hidráulica

by Amanda Suutari

Phiri Maseko turned his farm into a paradise that resists droughts for several years. How? Through water farming!

Zimbabwe is known for water scarcity and droughts. Yet, at the farm of Zepheniah Phiri Maseko, crops grow quickly and bountifully, even in drought years, and the abundance on a modest three-hectare homestead is enough to support a family of 15 and raise cash for other expenses. It is a lesson in deep spiritual belief: “When I visit farmers, I say, ‘You must commit yourself to the soil.'” Zepheniah Phiri Maseko is a farmer whose innovations in soil and water conservation have drawn international attention and visitors from around the world.

To say that Phiri’s success as an innovator is purely the result of his creativity and hard work would be to oversimplify. A deeply spiritual man, Phiri is driven by a commitment to honoring and conserving land and water for its spiritual value. To him, faith in God translates into a deep respect for the bounty that can be drawn from nature. Phiri tends to view natural phenomenon such as the interaction of soil and water, the properties of plants, and even his own innate abilities as an engineer, as gifts. His work extends from this set of personal values, and he encourages others to respect the soil and water as the source of life.

Phiri’s farm is located in a hilly area outside the small town of Zvishavane. This communal area consists of several farms that border his own, leaving each 3-hectare plot with little room for expansion. Above Phiri’s farm, a ruware, or rocky mound, poses a unique challenge. When heavy rains fall, this rocky area channels the water down the hill, carrying soil with it and causing major erosion. Phiri, however, has managed to transform this challenge into an advantage. It is there, just below the rocks, that he has developed structures that achieve what he calls water “planting.” Below, in his fields, this water can be “harvested” to supply enough water to all his crops, trees, and vegetable beds without the need for conventional irrigation. With his terraces, pits, sand traps, ponds, and tanks, Phiri is consistently able to control more than 50 percent of the runoff from rain, while in most countries it is only possible to store and control 20-50 percent of the total runoff, according to water expert Sandra Postel. In her 1998 publication, “Pillars of Sand,” she describes the immediate link between ability to control run-off and food security. Phiri is able to accumulate enough water in a good rainy season (at least three heavy rainfalls) to see him through two years of drought.

The evidence of this abundance of water is revealed in the oversized stalks of maize, two-story mango and banana trees, and lush vegetable gardens that grow on or between each crop area. These vegetable plots grow sweet potatoes, beans, paprika, carrots, tomatoes, onions, pumpkins, cabbages, and more, which provide for his family and can be sold throughout the year. Such variety is unique to small-scale farmers, who usually rely on one cash crop like maize, cotton, or tobacco. With his approach to cultivation, Phiri is able to avoid the need for artificial fertilizers or pesticides.

A well also supplies pure drinking water and is a resource to other farmers in times of need. The fish pond behind Zepheniah’s house provides a home to fish for consumption, as well as to a variety of bird species that use this lush area as a natural haven. The ponds are lined with reeds, sugarcane, bananas, kikuyu and elephant grass, which protect the banks. These ponds, and the lush foliage nearby, attract a variety of birds and wildlife, transforming this small farm into something of a wildlife refuge. A waterhole serves as an indicator of the water table. Each time it fills after a rain, it shows that enough water has seeped through the soil to replenish the underground store. If this occurs three times during a rainy season, Phiri’s farm will be supplied with water through up to two years of drought.

Not content to enjoy the fruits of his labor alone, Phiri has made his farm into a living university for other farmers, attracting them from farms throughout the region. Many of the strategies employed by Phiri have their roots in various traditions and technologies from around the world. Others were developed through Phiri’s own relentless zest for experimentation. But what truly sets this farm apart is the employment of every possible strategy to prevent runoff, as though the water itself were as precious as gold, and each drop counted. Once farmers dedicate themselves to conservation, Phiri says they will naturally see increased yields.


Zepheniah Phiri
The Zvishavane Water Project
P.O. Box 118
Zvishavane, Zimbabwe
Phone: 263 513250;

Adapted from

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China – Gansu – Captación Pluvial

by Amanda Suutari

The Gansu province of China is one of the driest and poorest areas in the mountainous area of northwest China. River runoff is too saline for drinking or irrigation, and groundwater is scant and of bad quality. Agriculture is largely rain-fed. After conducting a study and pilot project in the early 1990s, the province’s water research institute suggested introducing rainwater harvesting on a broader scale. In the wake of a drought in 1995, the provincial government launched the program quickly, with a successful media campaign calling for donors and technical support. The province provided a $50 subsidy to each rural household to build a rainwater collection “field” on roofs or paved courtyards, and two underground tanks.

The results have been called “phenomenal” – -farmers are diversifying into cash crops, have built 23,500 greenhouses, planted 440 hectares of fruit trees and 22,500 hectares of cash crops. In addition:

  1. Annual household incomes went up from $100 in 1995 to $182 in 2002.
  2. The average number of days for water fetching has been reduced by 70, which has freed up mainly women and children.
  3. Soil erosion is better controlled.
  4. There is more biodiversity, not only of agriculture but greenery and trees.
  5. The success of the project has been linked to the logical step-by-step process of research, experimentation, demonstration, training and replication by the water research institute (GRIWAC), and the active motivation and participation of farmers at the planning, construction, labor, and donation of materials, which shouldered two-thirds of the costs.
  6. Gansu has set an example of the potential of rainwater harvesting in China and it has attracted interest from other parts of the country. It has also been an innovation on the traditional concept of water resources development in China (an important one in the context of the large-scale, high-cost projects like the Three Gorges Dam, from which scattered rural communities cannot benefit).

Services restored/benefits: poverty alleviation, water and food security, erosion control

For more information visit Changemakers.

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China – Fuzhou – Tratamiento de Aguas Residuales con Ocean Arks

by Amanda Suutari

This pilot project was launched in Fuzhou, a crowded city of 2.5 million people in southwest China, on the Baima Canal, which pre-project was (and still is, except this section) 100 miles of what is basically open sewer which runs through the city and drains into the Ming River. Along this small section there are 40 influent points where wastewater from 12,000 people is released into the canal. Before the installation of the Restorer, the water in the canal was grey, laden with sewage and garbage, and emitted a powerful stench.

In the Autumn of 2003, Ocean Arks International installed a wastewater treatment system on a 600-meter stretch of this canal which flows along high-rise apartment buildings, a temple, shops, restaurants, and a school. The Restorer is basically a 600-meter-long floating pontoon, which houses two long racks with a walkway between for workers to access a central control barge, to trim the garden, and to pick up litter. The Restorer’s technologies, among other things, include oxygen emitted from blowers along the pontoon, botanical gardens which line the sides of the pontoons with root systems which house two strains of bacteria, one of which was introduced to convert ammonia into a more benign form, and the other, along with some introduced carp, to consume the sewage solids. Below the surface of the water a recycle pipe moves bacteria through the system to keep it biologically active.

After a year in operation, the water is clear, does not smell, and contains fish. The Restorer is meeting technical standards set by Fuzhou officials: ammonia levels are down, and biochemical oxygen demand is down to a tenth of original numbers. Residents report seeing butterflies and birds there for the first time in their lives.

The system is calculated to be one eighth of the price of a conventional sewage treatment system, which makes it ideal for places like rapidly urbanizing China where services like waste and sewage treatment can’t keep up with demand. While Ocean Arks has installed similar projects in over 80 locations, one staff member commented that he didn’t think they’d done a facility “which had such a drastic improvement on a day-to-day basis in people’s lives.” The project has attracted the attention of officials from other cities who have come to Fuzhou to learn more about it.

For more information visit Ocean Arks.

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EUA – California – Distrito de Conservación de Agua y Control de Inundaciones del Condado Napa

by Amanda Suutari

This plan was designed for the flood-prone Napa River valley which took a new approach to river management. Usually, conventional flood control emphasizes forcibly altering a river’s natural flow and tendencies by combining various types of infrastructure such as dams, channels, dredging, widening, or levees. This approach is often expensive, environmentally insensitive, and may create new problems whose long-term costs (such as silt buildup or drying up of downstream areas) outweigh any initial benefits.

Floods are assumed to have been a part of the Napa River Basin for thousands of years, and many have been recorded there since the area began to be settled. A few attempts at flood control have been made over the years. In 1944, a dam was built on Conn Creek, which created Lake Hennessy, which didn’t solve much. The County went through a period of creating flood control plans following a flood, but never received much support, and so the plans would be shelved until the next flood. In the past 36 years, Napa County residents have suffered $542 million in property damages.

With the imminent expiration of federal funding for the Flood Control Act of 1965, a few actors from different sectors were moved to create a new, restorative approach which broke with the traditional flood control model. With funds from the state and federal government, they raised the local portion by voting to introduce a half-cent sales tax increase, which would be used to contribute to the project. The collaboration included residents, industry, local, state, regional and federal state entities, academics, environmental organizations, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and various non-governmental organizations.

After spending thousands of hours planning in town hall meetings and workshops, a comprehensive plan was created. This plan instead took a “living rivers” principle and worked with the Napa River by reconnecting it to its historic flood plain, buying over 600 acres of reclaimed pastureland and returning it back to a wetland. Among other things, this would hold excess water. Other plans included installing two levels of terracing on the river banks, which would allow the river more room to spread out in times of flooding. Several bridges were targeted to be replaced with larger ones to allow more room for the river to pass under it. At one “oxbow” (a horsehoe-shaped kink in the river which overflows when fast-moving flood waters are less likely to follow sharp natural curves of the river) will be fitted with a bypass channel to shortcut the oxbow in times of flooding. The plan also includes the cleanup of disused contaminated industrial properties. When completed in 2007, the project will protect 2,700 homes, 350 businesses, and over 50 public properties, which means $26 million annual savings a year ($1 billion for the life of the project), while sustaining migrating fish and wildlife.

For more information visit the Napa Flood and Water Conservation District.

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EUA – Louisiana – Estero Nacional Barataria-Terrebonne

by Amanda Suutari

This is an example of “regional environmental management” for a degraded and economically important ecosystem. It shows how a complex web of players can coordinate a successful strategy despite multiple interests and agendas.

The Barataria-Terrebonne (BT) estuary in Louisiana is the country’s largest, covering an area of 16,835 square km where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Its rich natural resources have been important to the livelihood of the people who live there, but overexploitation, development, agriculture, and industry dramatically impacted the water quality, posed health risks, affected fisheries, and was causing land to sink.

Concerned about the state of the nation’s estuaries, the US government made a decision to create environmental management plans for the major ones in 1990. Hiring a small team of full-time staff and recruiting volunteers who were given the challenge of developing a plan for the BT estuary, the government’s conditions were that the plans should be an inclusive coalition of “government, private and commercial interests” to identify the issues, create strategies, and coordinate the whole process through carrying out the commitments.

The plan was developed in clear stages. Workshops, open to everyone who wanted to participate, attracted some 250 people, and included representatives from all three levels of government, industry, citizens and others.

The first stage was a “visioning” exercise where participants were to brainstorm what they hoped to see for the estuary in 25 years time. This would include the variety of perspectives, which were then written and displayed as keywords, which were organized into loose groups. This helped to clarify some of the basic themes, and to summarize a vision statement.

The following workshops followed the same procedure as the first. The next workshop was to identify obstacles to realizing the vision, and challenges in overcoming them. In the third workshop, participants brainstormed actions to deal with the challenges. Another workshop gave participants a chance to identify “catalytic actions,” those which would not only produce desirable results, but that would trigger other desirable results as well.

Results of this workshop formed the basis of the “action plans” which were part of the final environmental management plan, for each of which alliances were created, and participants then signed up for the ones they wanted to be a part of. Over the next year, details within each alliance were worked out, and the plans began to be implemented in 1996. The management plan is comprehensive and includes four basic elements:

  1. Planning/management/procedures
  2. Ecological management
  3. Citizen involvement/education
  4. Economic development.

Until now, the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program has been successful in attracting public attention on the estuary as an important ecosystem, garnering support and involvement from citizens, and gaining a level of trust and credibility for the program. Some of the concrete actions so far have focused on preventing further land loss, so mulberry, blackberry, oak and other trees have been planted to protect the soil. Old Christmas trees have created brush fences which were lined up on the coast to protect soil from eroding through wave action. Some other projects have worked to redistribute water or silt to build land where it is most needed. Still others are installing small-scale sewage treatment systems for houses and cabins along the waterways, and an education program was launched to help farmers find alternative methods of weed and pest control (to reduce the use of chemicals). Many of these programs have involved the use of community volunteer groups, high school students and local business associations, which has helped to create a high level of public participation in the project.

For more information visit the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program.

Read a more detailed version of this story in Human Ecology by Gerry Marten

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EUA – New York (New York City) – Protección de Cuenca

by Amanda Suutari

The New York City (NYC) Water Department supplies some 1.3 billion gallons of water to nearly 9 million New Yorkers every day, transported mainly by gravity through a system of 19 reservoirs in a 1,969 square mile watershed that extends some 125 miles north and west of NYC (The Croton and Catskills/Delaware watersheds).

For years, NYC’s water quality was one of the highest in the country, but increased pressure from agriculture and urban sprawl caused the water quality to decline, as was seen by an increasing number of boil-water alerts over the past 5 years. Installing a filtration system would have cost an exorbitant $2-8 billion dollars. City, state and EPA officials thought it would be much cheaper if they focused their priorities not on purifying degraded water but by preserving it at the source – -the watersheds themselves.

From 1989 the city began a watershed protection program, funding upgrades of sewage treatment plants, water supply facilities and dams, and a watershed agricultural program, which paid farmers to remove some sensitive lands from production and apply conservation practices in place of crops. This was the first upstate-downstate collaboration where water quality and economics were viewed as a shared, not a conflicting, goal. In 1997, watershed communities, the City and State governments, the EPA, environmental organizations and others united to create a landmark Watershed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) which had 3 main elements:

  1. Land acquisition and stewardship: The City spent (or will spend) $250 million (properly, with a consultation process) on purchasing lands or conservation easements (giving money to landowners to conserve the land they own) in undeveloped land near reservoirs, wetlands, or land with other natural features that are sensitive to water quality. Priority is given to buying undeveloped lands around reservoirs, streams and wetlands. In agricultural regions, a total of 3,000 acres of highly erodible land and 2,000 acres of riparian “buffer” lands have been targeted for protection.
  2. A watershed protection and partnership program: This is meant to promote watershed-wide cooperation, and especially build good connections between the City and its upstate neighbors, who are the day-to-day stewards of the water on which NYC depends. These might include maintenance and rehab of water and sanitation facilities, water conservation education programs and a “bank” which loans money to environmentally sensitive projects in the watershed communities.
  3. New watershed regulations: This replaces the outdated 44-year-old standards related to design/construction/ operation of wastewater treatment, and stormwater control measures.

While the MOA is seen as a milestone in the City’s water supply, the challenge lies in implementing it, but the expected result is that over 165 stream miles, and thousands of acres of natural areas will be preserved, resulting in improved water quality at a fraction of the price of a filtration system.

For more information visit the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

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EUA – Varias localidades – Fitoremediación

by Amanda Suutari

This emerging technology is marketed under various names like “Wastewater Gardens” or “Living Machines.” It is also commonly known in industrial ecology as “phytoremediation” or “bioremediation.” But the underlying principles are similar: a system whose design is to facilitate natural processes “doing the work” of cleaning up wastewater, restoring degraded ponds, streams or wetlands, treating sewage, or more controversially, toxic waste sites.

The use of wetlands to treat wastewater is not a new idea. The Chinese and Egyptians, for example, used them, but the concept of actually constructing a wetland was first attempted in 1904 in Australia. The technology became more developed in the seventies and eighties as part of the emerging fields of industrial ecology and ecological engineering. The goals of these fields are to optimize natural processes to perform industrial functions with reduced costs both to the economy and environment.

The system relies on the use of specially chosen native species of plants and non-pathogenic microbes specifically targeted to the system in question. With a diversity of regions and applications, experts are refining their systems especially in bioregions which have other successful projects which have served as models. The systems have been used in the US, Mexico, Indonesia, Australia, the Philippines and elsewhere.

Generally the sites are used for more benign types of wastewater and sewage treatment, but they are also being used to clean up oil fields, abandoned mines, weaponry testing sites, fertilizer spills and other sites contaminated by toxins. The potential of using them for “remediation” of dangerous zones caught researcher’s attention after sunflowers grown hydroponically on floating styrofoam rafts were used to “vacuum” radioactive waste in Chernobyl.

Specifically chosen plants act as “pumps” which draw and concentrate pollutants from the soil, and stimulate the growth of chemical-degrading bacteria. The plants can then be disposed of. This is seen as a less expensive alternative to removing or transporting soil or waste materials. On the other hand, there are concerns over whether animals and insects feeding off these plants would then reintroduce these toxins to the food chain. It also might discourage corporations from using cleaner industrial processes in the first place as they could use the process to justify creating toxic pollution.

These systems may have their greatest potential in the developing world, where sanitation services are not keeping up with growing rural and urban populations. Warm climates are ideal, as vegetation grows easily year round. Their potential, as with alternative energy, could represent a shift towards “decentralization and diversification” of wastewater services, with systems introduced for apartment buildings, schools, hotels, or small factories, which would remove dependence from and take pressure off of a distant, centralized, and costly treatment plant.

Like conventional wastewater treatment, the systems generally operate on several levels, where sewage (blackwater) first enters a sealed primary holding tank, where bacteria reduce the waste by 65-95% in a good system. Then it passes into a wetland cell, or layered garden, a bed of gravel with specially selected vegetation on top. Additional third gardens sometimes are designed which receive the wastewater that can be used for non-drinking water purposes such as irrigation or toilet flushing. Well-designed systems have met EPA and European Health Authority standards.

The costs are an estimated 5-10% of ordinary maintenance and operation costs, and can be designed to rely on gravity, thus reducing/eliminating the need for energy. They can reduce the amount of fecal coliform bacteria by 99% without the use of any chemicals, such as harmful and expensive chlorine.

For more information visit the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Canadá – British Columbia – La Nación Tsleil-Waututh

by Amanda Suutari

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation occupies some 190,000 hectares of the Indian River valley just north of Vancouver, Canada, living off the richly forested land with salmon and chum-filled rivers. Their way of life depended on salmon, deer, elk, bear, mountain goats, cedar, berries, and medicines; today although dramatically altered, some of these traditions still continue.

During the 1950s-1980s, industrial logging and other industry caused salmon runs to decline, affected other sea life, and degraded the water quality of the Indian River which drains into the Burrard Inlet. Concern over the ecosystem’s state and health of the community inspired the Nation leaders to find new ways to conduct stewardship of the land.

Among other things, they signed an agreement with the British Columbia (BC) government to co-manage the region’s provincial park, held a conference on integrated stewardship, began a watershed and restoration study, began an ecotourism business with canoe and boat tours, and signed cooperative agreements with the BC forest ministry and forestry operations to create sustainable logging ventures. They joined forces with foundation Ecotrust Canada in 1998, which provided funds, support and training for various programs, including: use of GPS for restoration of salmon habitat, field work and data collection, and cleanup of industrial waste in the valley left behind by logging camps and sawmills. They also deactivated 100 km of logging roads, which has been key in restoring the watershed.

They are applying for FSC (Forest Stewardship Council, the eco-labelling system for wood) certification for their logging, and plans are advancing for more ecotourism development.

Services/benefits: Watershed quality improved, salmon runs recovering, sense of stewardship and pride among TW nation, economic benefits

For more information visit the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

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Rusia – Lago Baikal – Impidiendo Polución con Uranio

by Amanda Suutari

Lake Baikal in Siberia is one of the most important bodies of fresh water in the world. However, Russia’s increasingly authoritarian government and rapidly growing oil and nuclear economy threaten the health of this cherished natural resource. Lake Baikal native Marina Rikhvanova, a long-time figure in Russia’s environmental movement, leads efforts to protect the region from potential environmental disaster brought on by industry. After successfully campaigning to reroute a destructive petroleum pipeline from the lake’s watershed, Rikhvanova is now working to prevent the construction of a uranium enrichment facility in the region.

Success in Spite of Tightening on Civil Society

Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest lake, is known as the “Galapagos of Russia.” It holds 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen freshwater reserve. Its age and isolation have created one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections of freshwater flora and fauna, including 1,700 endemic plant and animal species. Located in southeast Siberia, Lake Baikal provides a way of life for the local communities and is cherished by wilderness lovers from around the world. In 1996, it was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In 2002, the Russian government announced plans to build the longest petroleum pipeline in the world, extending 2,566 miles from eastern Siberia to an oil terminal on Russia’s Pacific coast through Lake Baikal basin. In 2005 Transneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company, decide to build the pipeline within a half-mile of Lake Baikal, despite concerns about possible oil spills and leakage. Rikhvanova, co-chair and co-founder of Baikal Environmental Wave (the Wave) immediately opposed the plan, and embarked on a four-year struggle to protect the lake. Working within Russia’s increasingly repressive climate, she successfully led a national campaign that included rallying thousands in protest. Volunteers of the Wave and Baikal movement also obtained over 20,000 signatures and partnered with international organizations during the campaign. Due to these efforts, in April 2006, President Vladimir Putin ordered the pipeline to be rerouted away from the lake’s watershed. This marked a tremendous success for civil society and the environmental movement in Russia.

Nuclear Threats to the Lake

Despite the civic outcry to protect the region, threats continue to plague Lake Baikal. In late 2006, the Russian government announced plans to construct the International Uranium Enrichment Center near Angarsk on the grounds of an existing nuclear facility located just 50 miles from Lake Baikal. The purpose of the center is to enrich uranium transported from other countries and then return it to them for reuse. Once the uranium is enriched, only 10 percent of the radioactive material will be returned to the customer, leaving 90 percent behind for storage.

Russia is the only country in the world willing to take radioactive materials from other countries for processing, long-term storage, and burial. Countries that do not currently have nuclear infrastructure are willing to pay a premium to Russia to do this dangerous work. This budding industry poses significant environmental and health risks. Uranium tailings, leftover waste in the form of sand after enrichment, consist of extremely harmful radioactive and toxic uranium hexafluoride. These tailings are preserved outside in sealed containers. Should these containers be compromised as a result of a fire or otherwise, uranium hexafluoride would leak into the air and form fluoric acid. If the radioactive sand is left on the ground and allowed to dry, wind can deposit it on vegetation, allowing radioactive materials to enter the food chain. It can also wash into rivers and lakes, contaminating them.

Rikhvanova and the Wave now lead the effort to stop construction of this uranium enrichment center. They are demanding that the required independent environmental impact assessment and review be carried out. In early 2007, she traveled to Moscow to protest the building of 40 new nuclear power plants across Russia and in the spring of 2007, she organized several protests in Irkutsk, the latest on April 14 which was attended by more than 1,000 people. Rikhvanova has also met with officials from the Russian Atomic Energy Agency who agreed that if the local population was against the center, it would not be built. Despite the promise, plans for its construction continue. In late July, Rikhvanova hosted a No-Nukes Camp in Angarsk, one of many citizen training camps held during the summer in the region. Camp participants attended trainings about how radioactive waste is imported into Russia, the danger of transporting nuclear materials and the lack of information available to the public about plans for further nuclear development, with a focus on what civil society groups can do to help stop the project.

Personal Challenges

A recent challenge to Rikhvanova’s work is the controversy around her son, Pavel, and his alleged involvement in a murder that occurred at a protest camp run by radical political groups held in the summer of 2007. This camp was attacked by nationalist thugs (according to the government report), resulting in injuries and one death. Rikhvanova’s son, Pavel, was in the area when the murder happened, though he has denied involvement in the violence. Following his arrest, authorities seized Rikhvanova’s home computer. The local newsmedia reported on the arrest story, attempting to connect Pavel’s alleged role in the attacks to Rikhvanova’s efforts to protect Lake Baikal. Rikhvanova must now struggle both to clear her own name and support her son while he continues to be held without charge in police custody.

Marina Rikhvanova is a recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize. For more information, see the Goldman Prize website.

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Australia – Una Casa Sustentable in la Ciudad

by Amanda Suutari

In 1996, Mike Mobbs, a Sydney environmental lawyer, and his lawyer wife Heather Armstrong set out to renovate their 100-year-old terrace house in the inner-city suburb of Chippendale – to expand their kitchen and make a bit more living space for the two kids. But when they sat down to plan the job they decided to build a house that would be less of a drain on the planet’s resources. With a bit of vision, some common sense, and a lot of tenacity, they built what most of us would think impossible… a house in the middle of Australia’s biggest city that:

  • Collects all its drinking water from the roof
  • Generates all of its electricity from the sun
  • Processes all of its wastewater, including sewage, on site

Impossible? Outrageously expensive? Here’s how they did it…

Mike wanted to collect all of the water the family needed off their roof. They had never been big water users. Even before they renovated, they used just 350 liters of water a day, or about half that of the average Sydney household. But over a year, this still adds up to around 100,000 liters of water.

The house is less than 2 kilometers from Sydney’s central business district, sandwiched between two congested inner-city roads (Broadway and Cleveland St.), choked frequently with buses and cars. So with two young kids, Mike and Heather were initially concerned about the quality of the water they’d collect off their roof. They were pleasantly surprised. Today, their drinking water is cleaner than that of most households. The water exiting the other end of the tank is clean enough to be reused in the house as grey water to flush toilets, wash clothes and water the garden, and any excess overflows into a dry reed bed.

The water recycling and sewerage disposal systems in the Chippendale house process around 100,000 liters of sewage each year, preventing it from entering the Pacific Ocean. The organic composting also cuts the local council’s waste by several tons. The water recycling and sewage treatment system cost about $11,000, including all of the excavations and the tank, which has the capacity to process waste for nine people.

Annual savings on water and energy bills are around $1,600/yr. Taking into account extra maintenance and gas bills, that works out to an annual saving of about $1,200. The cost-benefit would be greater if neighbors started to use the house’s organic waste disposal system, which still has extra capacity.

Michael also estimates the sustainable building costs would be halved if built from scratch.

For more details, click on the links at:

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Ecuador – La Batalla contra Chevron Texaco

por Amanda Suutari

Luis Yanza y Pablo Fajardo son los líderes de una batalla legal sin precedentes contra uno de los gigantes internacionales de la industria petrolera, y que exige justicia para sus comunidades tras una de las peores catástrofes ambientales en la historia. De acuerdo a los demandantes, desde 1964 hasta 1990, Texaco vertió casi 17 millones de galones de petróleo crudo y 20 mil millones de galones de aguas residuales directamente al Amazonas Ecuatoriano. Alegando problemas de salud debido a la contaminación, los habitantes de la región exigen una limpieza completa en lo que podría ser la más grande demanda ambiental del planeta. Yanza es cofundador del Frente de Defensa de la Amazona que organizó a 30,000 habitantes del Amazonas en el norte de Ecuador en una demanda colectiva contra Texaco, que fue adquirida por Chevron en el 2001. El abogado principal, Pablo Fajardo, residente de una de las comunidades afectadas, se ha convertido en el vocero de los demandantes.

Contaminación Petrolera sin Precedentes

La Amazona Ecuatoriana contiene el 5 por ciento de todas las especies de plantas y animales del mundo y es una de las regiones de mayor biodiversidad dentro del Amazonas y de la Tierra. Como el principal inversionista petrolero en la región en las décadas de los 1970s y 1980s, Texaco construyó mucha de la infraestructura petrolera pero decidió no reinyectar a las profundidades las aguas residuales y lodos resultados del proceso de perforación. En cambio, de acuerdo a los demandantes, miles de millones de galones fueron vertidos en la cuenca, o abandonados en más de 1,000 fosas dispersas en la región. Según la propia empresa, derramó casi 17 millones de galones de petróleo en tierras y aguas y otros 20 mil millones de galones de aguas residuales. En comparación, cuando el Exxon Valdez encalló, derramó poco más de 10 mil millones de galones de petróleo. En 1992, Texaco abandonó el Ecuador, dejando atrás lo que expertos y residentes llaman un monumental desastre ambiental.

Hasta la fecha los 30,000 habitantes de la región beben aguas que según los expertos involucrados en el caso, están contaminadas. De acuerdo con los demandantes, muchas de las fosas de desechos siguen contaminando ríos, riachuelos y el manto acuífero. En algunas zonas, todas las fuentes de agua están contaminadas y pocos peces logran sobrevivir en los ríos. Los demandantes reclaman que la exposición prolongada a substancias toxicas ha resultado en una seria crisis de salud, y que quienes viven en proximidad a dicha contaminación sufren niveles drásticamente elevados de enfermedades de la piel, de las vías respiratorias y reproductivas, y tienen tasas de cáncer siete veces mayores que la población del resto del país. Además reclaman que la devastación regional incluye a más de dos millones de acres deforestados.  Sin embargo, Chevron dice que los problemas ambientales y de salud de la región no son el resultado de la contaminación causada por Texaco, y niegan responsabilidad alguna.

Guiando una Comunidad en Busca de la Justicia

En 1993 Yanza, junto con un equipo de abogados Estadounidenses, demandaron colectivamente a Texaco. Los demandantes incluyen una coalición de residentes organizados por Yanza, e incluyen a 80 aldeas y 5 etnias indígenas. El primer caso contra Texaco (adquirida por Chevron en el 2001) fue iniciado en la corte de distrito de Nueva York, cerca de la sede de Texaco, en 1993. En 1996, una corte superior anuló el caso, pero los demandantes apelaron y lograr un fallo a su favor. En el 2002, la Corte de Apelaciones de EUA acordó con la solicitud de Chevron de enviar el caso a Ecuador. Sin embargo, la corte advirtió a Chevron que la justicia Estadounidense intervendría en caso de que la empresa intentara incumplir el fallo de las cortes Ecuatorianas.

En Mayo del 2003, los 30,000 demandantes liderados por el equipo legal de Fajardo, demandaron en el Amazonas de Ecuador, exigiendo que Chevron pague por una limpieza total que incluye la remoción de aguas residuales, detritos y maquinaria; la remediación de aguas y tierras contaminadas; la recuperación de flora y fauna, incluso la acuática; y el monitoreo y mejora de la salud de los pobladores.

Chevron no niega haber vertido las aguas residuales y el petróleo en la región, pero dice que la contaminación no ha dañado a los habitantes y niega responsabilidad por cualquier limpieza. En Marzo del 2007, los demandantes, con abundante evidencia recolectada en 45 investigaciones de campo que ya habían documentado la extensa contaminación, comprobando que no había porque demorar más el caso. El juez ordenó comenzar la evaluación de los daños, realizada por expertos independientes, y culminando en un dictamen en Abril del 2008 que citaba entre $8.3-$16 mil millones de dólares en daños. Fajardo y Yanza han recorrido su país incansablemente, convirtiendo el caso en un asunto de dignidad y soberanía nacional.

Impacto a Largo Plazo

El impacto de los esfuerzos de Yanza y Fajardo en contra de la industria petrolera en Ecuador ya ha sido trascendente. Han llamado atención a los efectos duraderos sobre el medio ambiente y la gente, resultando en que el gobierno Ecuatoriano adoptara mejores leyes ambientales. El legado de Texaco y Chevron en Ecuador ya son parte de la conciencia nacional. Fajardo y Yanza recientemente llevaron al presidente de Ecuador en un recorrido por las viejas instalaciones de Texaco, que resultó en una promesa por parte del gobierno de reubicar a varias de las comunidades afectadas.

Su labor lleva también grandes riesgos. Yanza, Fajardo, sus familias y varios de sus colegas han sido amenazados de muerte, acosados e intimidados. En Diciembre del 2005, la Comisión Inter-Americana de Derechos Humanos de la Organización de Estados Americanos ofreció medidas precautorias a Yanza y Fajardo en un esfuerzo por proteger sus vidas. El hermano de Fajardo fue muerto a pocos meses de unirse al equipo legal; no ha habido investigación ni arresto por el asesinato. Fajardo ha sido obligado a variar su rutina, durmiendo en distintos lados cada noche.

Yanza y Fajardo recibieron el Premio Goldman del Medio Ambiente. Para mayores informes visite Goldman Prize.

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México – Jalisco – Saneamiento del Río Ayuquila

por David Nuñez

El Río Ayuquila en el occidente de México fluye a través de paisajes diversos que incluyen cumbres montañosas y planicies costeras que contienen más especies que Francia, Canadá o Gran Bretaña. En esta cuenca habitan más de 100 especies de mamíferos y 300 de aves, con vegetación que incluye manglares, selva tropical y bosques de pinos, entre otras.

La Modernidad llegó a la cuenca del río Ayuquila en la década de 1950, con la construcción de presas y canales de irrigación para la expansión de la sedienta y lucrativa cosecha de la caña de azúcar alrededor de las comunidades de Autlán y El Grullo, en Jalisco, que gracias a éste motor económico pronto se convirtieron en centros regionales de industria y comercio. Actualmente cerca del 80% de la población de la cuenca vive en esta zona, río arriba.

El 20% restante vive río abajo de esta concentración de agricultura e industria. Mientras las comunidades río arriba prosperaron, las de río abajo menguaron, amenazadas por el fluyo disminuido del río, la perdida de especies de peces y crustáceos, y aguas severamente contaminadas.

A principios de los 1980s la región recibió atención internacional de parte de la comunidad científica cuando investigadores de la Universidad de Guadalajara descubrieron una variante perene del maíz. El descubrimiento motivó al Estado de Jalisco a comprar más de 1,000 hectáreas en la Sierra de Manantlán y donarlas a la Universidad para la construcción de un centro de investigaciones en 1984. Desde un principio la estrategia Universitaria complementó su investigación básica con sólidos programas de vinculación social y educación ambiental. Implementó una variedad de estrategias innovadoras para comenzar a enfrentar los problemas en la cuenca, incluyendo la creación de un Consejo Asesor formado por autoridades municipales, estatales y federales, el sector académico, organizaciones civiles y grupos marginados.

Trabajando con las comunidades locales, la Universidad pronto comenzó a cosechar logros. Por ejemplo, una red de Comités para la Defensa del Río en cada comunidad afectada. Aunque se culpaba al ingenio azucarero por la contaminación, los monitoreos de calidad de agua pronto revelaron una aportación significativa de las ciudades de Autlán y El Grullo por el mal manejo de sus aguas residuales y residuos sólidos. Se implementaron exitosos programas de separación de basura, reciclaje y composta de residuos orgánicos. Mientras tanto, presionados por la Universidad y sus aliados, el gobierno federal comenzó a construir plantas de tratamiento de aguas residuales.

Sin embargo, el ingenio se negaba a cooperar. Desaparecían del río varias especies de peces y crustáceos durante la temporada de operación del ingenio, y los daños eran tan severos que el río no podía recuperarse en los meses que descansaba el mismo. Cuando los monitoreos de la Universidad lograron documentar todos los efectos de un desastroso accidente que vertió melaza al río, el sindicato dejó de apoyar al ingenio y se unió al bando de los conservacionistas. Poco después la Universidad invitó a especialistas Cubanos a evaluar la problemática del ingenio y dar sus recomendaciones. Estas incluyeron medidas tan básicas como el uso de aguas residuales para irrigar campos de caña cercanos. Sin aliados o excusas, el ingenio finalmente se vio forzado a implementar un programa para minimizar sus contaminantes que inmediatamente se vio reflejado en la salud del rió, a beneficio de todos los involucrados.

La misma estrategia participativa ha dado otros resultados, como la declaración de la Reserva de la Biósfera de la Sierra de Manantlán en 1987, el combate contra la tala ilegal e intereses mineros, y una disminución del cincuenta por ciento en el número de incendios forestales dentro de la reserva. Aunque persisten muchos problemas en la región, el saneamiento del Río Ayuquila ha sido tan exitosa que ha sido utilizada como caso de estudio por organizaciones internacionales como la ONU, el Banco Mundial y la Unión Internacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza.

Para obtener más información vea Ayuquila River.

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Tailandia – Pak Mun Dam – Reapertura Experimental de una Presa

by Amanda Suutari

This case is a good illustration of a system crossing thresholds into new stability domains, both when a dam is built and when it is removed. While dams are being decommissioned increasingly in the US, experimentally reopening gates of a controversial dam in a developing country – -and studying what happens – – is less common.

The Pak Mun Dam (PMD) was completed in 1994 by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand and funded by the World Bank, despite opposition by 6,000 families who were displaced by the project as well as efforts by local and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the International Rivers Network.

Yielding somewhat to 10 years of resistance by villagers, the government opened the gates for 1 year and commissioned Ubon Ratchathani University to study the effects of the opening of the dam. The study found numerous things, including:

  1. Some 152 species of fish returned to the Mun River, 134 of which are migratory (who travel from the Mekong to live, feed and spawn), including the appearance of the endangered Mekong Giant Catfish.
  2. Of the 74 types of fishing gear normally used, 22 types had been made obsolete by the dam; after the gates’ opening, fishers began using these obsolete types again (fishing gear is directly related to status, dignity and cultural pride for fisherfolk).
  3. Villagers reported being better fed.
  4. Vegetation along the Mun River began to recover, much of which was used for food, herbs, fish food, gear, rope, timber, household appliances and ceremonies.
  5. Land was being used for riverside gardens again.
  6. The number of inter-village conflicts decreased.
  7. Household incomes went up. In 1990, 32.7% of residents in the target area were below the poverty line; this figure went up to 62.5% in 2000, and fell to 57.6% in 2001.

However, the Thai government has since ignored the urging of NGOs and villagers to keep the gates open and decided to close them, and said they will continue to do so for 8 months a year.

For more information visit Rivers Watch and a Ubon Ratchatani University study.

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