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Cycle 5 (2015 Deadline)

AGUA-ANDES: Ecological infrastructure strategies for enhancing water sustainability in the semi-arid Andes

PI: Bram Willems (, Centro de Competencias del Agua
U.S. Partner: Andrea Gerlak, University of Arizona
Project Dates: January 2017 - December 2019

Project Overview

Panoramic view of the wetland of Minascurral with llamas grazing [Photo courtesy of Dr. Willems]
This project focuses on Ecological Infrastructure as an adaptation strategy for ensuring water sustainability in South America’s Semi-Andes region. Dr. Willems and his team seek to advance our understanding of ecohydrologic processes that take place in headwaters ecosystems, effects of changes in climate and anthropogenic drivers, and how these are reflected in the water supply along the basin. Andean puna wetlands are far less studied than tropical glaciers, but they play an even more crucial role in the hydrology of the majority of Peru’s Andean basins and hence in the provision of water to urban and productive centers of the country. As glaciers have almost disappeared in the team’s study site, this project will produce relevant information for climate change adaptation plans by generating new knowledge about post-glacier hydrological processes in the Andes. In addition, the researchers will study the eco-hydrological properties of human-made water-regulating ecosystems and their scalability for ecological interventions in urban and rural areas. On the social science side, the team aims to better understand how actors make decisions around Ecological Infrastructure. Specifically, they want to know how decision-makers receive information and learn about ecological infrastructure design and implementation, as well as what obstacles they face in understanding and advancing ecological infrastructure. This entails understanding trade-offs decision-makers face with regard to strategic planning, public investments, and institutional capability. Overall, the objective of this project is to establish an integrated, participatory approach to the design and implementation of Ecological Infrastructure Strategies that can be utilized in Peru’s Andean urban centers and communities. This research will address a key challenge in understanding how society undergoes changes in the use and distribution of environmental resources, and it should contribute to our understanding of decision-making around water sustainability more broadly.

The project is aligned with USAID’s new Adaptation Flagship Program for Peru, in which green infrastructure investments in watersheds are a key adaptation strategy. The project site (the headwaters of the Cachi basin and the 180,000-inhabitant city of Huamanga in Ayacucho) was selected to align with USAID’s focal regions within Peru. To promote interdisciplinary research and develop effective ways of mobilizing science to address societal needs, Dr. Willems and his team plan several specific activities. They will develop robust scenarios pertaining to the water supply in the region under different global change pathways. These scenarios will be implemented together with the Regional Government of Ayacucho, local governments, and the local water authority, institutions responsible for elaborating the policy, strategy, local planning, and regulation of water resources. The researchers will also develop Ecological Infrastructure Strategies by integrating natural and man-made water-regulating ecosystems with landscape planning, urban planning, and water and wastewater management, giving due and balanced consideration to social, economic, and environmental factors and involving local authorities and community organizations. These EIS will facilitate the incorporation of ecological infrastructure within water planning investments. Throughout the project, they will work closely with the University of Ayacucho (UNSCH) on the implementation of the Regional Research Institute for Water – Food – Energy Security (ir-NEXUS), which is envisioned as a think-tank that supports policy formulation and public investment processes with relevance to the local and the Andean region sustainable development. Finally, they will support the implementation of postgraduate programs at UNSCH to actively involve graduate students in the natural and social sciences.

Recent Activities

 5-259 Fieldwork in the Cachi basin headwaters  Ayacucho
Fieldwork in the Cachi basin headwaters, Ayacucho (August 18th-19th, 2017)

During July-September 2017, a number of research activities, science-policy dialogues, and capacity building activities were carried out. On the research side, several field work campaigns were carried out in the highlands of Ayacucho and Huancavelica, to assess the eco-hydrological functioning of wetland and grassland ecosystems, mapping pressures exerted by natural and anthropic processes, and socio-economic and institutional developments, assessing   how they affect and are interlinked with regional and national policies, among others. For instance, one key aspect is to understand the drivers underlying overgrazing in the grasslands of the punas, and how this could affect local water and food securities. Between 14-19 August, field campaigns were conducted together with three visiting students of the University of the West of England at Bristol, UK. Their visit was part of the International Water Security Network project, which is developed in synergy with our PEER. These students will design their undergraduate theses based on the studies performed with us in Peru. A second visit was organized in September, this time with our US counterparts led by Dr. Andrea Gerlak, who secured a supplementary travel fund from PEER. The visit allowed Dr. Gerlack learn about water harvesting initiatives undertaken by peasant communities in the highlands of Ayacucho and which have been promoted by CEDAP, a local NGO with whom we started collaborations.
Partners of the University Of Ayacucho (UNSCH) completed the construction of modules for testing and teaching water treatment processes. With these, the team successfully achieved one milestone towards the construction of the experimental water treatment facility based on green infrastructure. The modules have been developed by students of the Chemical Engineering Faculty, under the leadership of Prof. Cipriano Mendoza. Relevant information has been gathered for the design of the water sensitive campus, a major project together with the UNSCH, that is currently in the pipeline. The design is led by Margarita Macera, an architect that is doing her PhD at the KU Leuven, Belgium, and who has joined the Agua-Andes team beginning this year. The team also counts on the collaboration of Dr. Adriana Zuñiga from the University of Arizona and a team of architects and urban designers. The aim is to incorporate GI in the future development of the UNSCH campus, such that it becomes a living laboratory and an ecological spot for the city of Huamanga.
5-259 Follow-up meetings with the Agua-Andes team of the UNSCH
Follow-up meetings with the Agua-Andes team of the UNSCH (August 17th, 2017)
Coordination has been advanced with the regional government of Ayacucho, to install sensors for measuring water levels in strategic points of the Cachi hydraulic system. This is done in collaboration with the Imperial College of London. Synergies were initiated with the Grupo Impulsor de los MRSE en Ayacucho, a local committee composed of NGO's, among them our partners from CEDAP, governmental institutions (regional and local governments) and the academia; whose aim is to promote the establishment of mechanisms of payment for ecosystem services and the development of GI projects (PIP verdes) and payment for ecosystem services mechanisms. 
A  meeting was organized by the team on the 18th of September, to design a joint work plan with the agreement that Agua-Andes, through our PEER and IWSN projects and respective partners, will provide the necessary scientific and capacity building support to the initiatives of the committee. The alliance established is important for the objectives of the PEER project, as it will help orient our research to the local needs/challenges and hence expand the impact and influence of our efforts. Furthermore, it will provide the team with more opportunities for leveraging supplementary funds.
Capacity building and outreach: In regards to capacity building, together with our collaborators from Peruvian universities, the team started the design of a master program in water treatment that will be implemented in the UNSCH. The program will be based on the research experience of Agua-Andes and will have a strong technical focus, promoting learning based on resolving local problems for water and waste water treatment in communities. A second objective is to build-up a high-level training program to benefit the largest number possible of students. This will allow to use more effectively the resources provided by USAID-PEER and other funding agencies.
5-259 Congress_5-259 Willems conference 
 Panel presentation at Agua-Andes Congress 

I Congreso Peruano Agua Andes
, which took place in September, was a big success. This was an unprecedented scientific event in Ayacucho with high-level presentations and an active participation of decision makers, stakeholders, scientists and students.  The topics covered included water security, green infrastructure and sustainable management of ecosystem resources. There were a total of 29 keynote speakers (13 international speakers) and 18 oral presentations of research works developed by junior researchers. Furthermore, 2 round tables have been organized for participating   stakeholders and decision makers, a workshop for validating the national plan for science and technology on water resources of CONCYTEC, and a presentation of modules for water treatment constructed by the students supported by the PEER project was presented.
Potential Development Impacts
Through collaboration with CONDESAN, the team developed and validated overgrazing maps for the Pilpichaca community of Huancavelica, which, together with the maps of wetlands and water bodies, will be used as input for the elaboration of larger public investment projects, oriented at preserving grasslands for alpacas and the construction of small reservoirs for harvesting rainfall. Furthermore, the methodologies developed as part of the study will be presented to the Ministry of Environment next September 20th, entity that is interested in using it for mapping the highlands of the Andes mountain range. Through the establishment of the collaboration with the comité impulsor, the PEER project will effectively contribute to the local efforts aimed at promoting the establishment of payment for ecosystem services mechanisms and the implementation of green infrastructure projects.
5-259 Canal 5 Ayacucho_Bram Willems interview
Dr. Bram Willems being interviewed at the Congress by Canal 5 [Photo courtesy of Dr. Willems]
One of the major impacts of the congress is that the term of GI has been included in the debate surrounding water security in Ayacucho. For many of the participants, which included decision makers, scientists, students and stakeholders, the term was new and the presentations done by the U.S. partners from the University of Arizona, the University of the West of England and Monash University of South Africa, were real eye-openers.
Within the congress, together with the national council for science and technology of Peru (CONCYTEC), the team organized a workshop for presentation of the National Research Plan for Water Resources. During the workshop, the team of CONCYTEC  had the opportunity to receive the feedback from stakeholders, decision makers and researchers, and hence include the local agenda into this major policy tool. The plan, once approved, is anticipated to trigger several funding mechanisms for developing research relevant to water resources management. So, through PEER, a platform has been provided for further enriching a key policy tool of the GOP.
Future plans: Going forward, the team will work on processing the information of the research activities done so far.The team will continue working on the design of the Master's program in Ayacucho. For this, a workshop is planned in mid-November. A final visit to the community of Pilpichaca is planned at the end of October to present the final results of the study on overgrazing performed together with CONDESAN. A round-table on GI will be organized by Agua-Andes in the Expo Agua Peru fair: (Dr. Willems is one of the owners of the event, which has consolidated as the major technological fair in water in Peru). In addition,  Mrs. Tulia García, director of CEDAP, will be invited to present the experiences of peasant communities in Ayacucho on water harvesting initiatives using traditional knowledge. Dr. Willems is planning a visit to Tucson in February 2018. Depending on the availability of resources, it is possible that he will be joined by one of the Agua-Andes team members.

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