Posted by: iainjhunt | October 13, 2011

Building water systems from trees

The night before the scheduled inauguration of the El Guabo water system, something freakish but not so anomalous occurred. I’d finally managed to get a hold of my compañera,  Virginia, who had just returned unusually late from a visit to a community further down the road. She reported that the bus had been delayed because a tornado had passed through El Guabo, uprooting a number of trees, and thus blocking the road.

A tornado?!

Bueeeeeeeeeeeno… a tornado occurring in the roller-coaster topography of Waslala does indeed seem freakish, but having such an interruption occur at the culmination of a project that’s experienced many setbacks (such as having the cable from a suspended crossing stolen late one night) didn’t feel that anomalous. Early the following morning, I traveled to the community, and sure enough the evidence suggested that a tornado had indeed passed through, with trees uprooted and chunks of roofs missing within only a narrow corridor. I found Don Serapio, who would later be hosting the inauguration festivities in his home, along with his family, continuing to clear fallen trees (whilst salvaging the relatively easy pickins’ for much needed firewood that essentially all Waslala campo families utilize for cooking). The inauguration, at Don Serapio’s insistence, proceeded as planned.

I begin with this story to highlight the resilience (and resourcefulness) of the Waslalan people, and to bring to light some of the odd weather events and frequent uprooting of trees that  indirectly point to some global environmental issues that cannot be ignored as we try to implement water supply projects in Waslala. If the wet season has been dry this past year in Waslala, the dry season has been, well, parched (in a still more green and lush than, say, Nevada, sort of a way), with reports of water sources yielding their lowest output in memory. In the present focal community, El Guabo, the system’s dry season source flow had decreased from the previous year. In Piedras Blancas, another WfW-supported community, a river reportedly dried up completely for the first time. All the viejos say that “it don’t rain like it ‘usta.'”

While I can’t show rainfall trends in the area over the past how-ever-many years, I would like to share some figures widely cited online regarding another phenomenon that has likely contributed to diminishing water supplies: deforestation. On a national level, Nicaragua has lost some 50% of its forest cover since 1950, with 21% disappearing between 1990 and 2005 alone. In 1998, a presidential decree outlawed the logging of some precious woods for five years, including cedar and mahogany.

In Waslala, people recall as far back as the 1970s the extensive logging of precious lumber, with truckloads of logs often leaving at night. The process let up a little during the war-torn 1980s, but started up again in full force in the 1990s. Today, the logging industry doesn’t affect Waslala as drastically as other parts of Nicaragua. However, the clearing of woodlands for cattle pasture is a process that’s developed in its place in subsequent years.

Reforestation activity during water committees' workshop

Efforts are being made at both the national and municipal levels to confront the issue. Sections of Waslala lie within BOSAWAS (in the mountains above Santa Maria Kubali, another WfW community that happens to have an abundant water supply), the largest nature reserve in Central America, and presumably third largest in the world. The mayor’s office facilitates a municipal environmental committee that is composed of representatives from different institutions (including the Pastoral del Agua).   Together they’re working on a municipality-wide reforestation plan.

El Guabo's Modesta and Lupe working with Virginia and university students to prepare temporary tree nursery

Water for Waslala recognizes the long-term risks that deforestation poses to the sustainability of community water supplies in Waslala, and is beginning to incorporate reforestation as a necessary component in the implementation of water supply projects. We’re now beginning to ask communities to develop reforestation plans as a prerequisite for considering the community for water system construction.  Our project facilitator/promoter Virginia is helping communities with both existing and potential future water systems start to elaborate these plans. Reforestation was among the principal areas of focus during our first Waslala-wide water committee capacity-building workshop in April.

Finally, to commence the real nitty-gritty work of reforestation, we’ve been collaborating with a group of agro-forestry students from the University of the Autonomous Regions and Caribbean Coast’s satellite campus in Waslala to reforest the area surrounding El Guabo’s water source. Along with community members, they built a temporary nursery in the hills outside of the community, where they prepared 500 seedlings, now ready to be planted in the near future. Sustainable water systems cannot be constructed from just PVC and concrete – they also require unharvested lumber.

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  1. […] initiated reforestation efforts, […]


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