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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.

2018 activities at a glance

5-259 Fieldwork in the Cachi basin headwaters  Ayacucho
Fieldwork in the Cachi basin headwaters, Ayacucho (August 18th-19th, 2017)
 Combined with work accomplished during the first year of the project,  building of the assessment capacity of Andean water-regulating ecosystems, in particular wetlands, can be summarized as follows. By now the team is able to:
1) Differentiate Andean ecosystems using remote sensing techniques, based on their vegetation cover and water indexes.
2) Produce maps for detecting areas where human pressure is likely higher (hot spots), even in places where no fieldwork has been undertaken.
3) Estimate the contribution of Andean headwaters ecosystems to the water budget of the basin.
The results achieved so far  contribute directly to the project objective to identify and understand the properties and dynamics of water-regulating Andean ecosystems. Furthermore, the remote sensing techniques validated contribute indirectly to generation of robust scenarios of ecosystem management at the local scale for medium and long future time horizons.
Assessment of the water-treatment capacity of ecosystem-based designs is ongoing. Agua-Andes team has designed, constructed and tested water treatment modules. Student Nazia Loayza successfully validated her drinking water treatment module at the treatment plant for drinking water of SEDA Ayacucho - the water utility that provides water and sanitation services to the 200000-inhabitant city of Ayacucho and the 70000-inhabitant city of Huanta. Results showed that her design works properly under real conditions, achieving the required quality standards for drinking water. On other hand, Alvaro Alaya has installed his wetland module in the domestic wastewater treatment plant of SEDA Ayacucho, where he is analyzing the capacity of native plants in removing contaminants. After 1 month of operation, results showed that the setup has achieved the quality standards for reusing wastewater in agriculture.  Dayma Quintas, also graduate student from the UNSCH, has completed the installation of her water-cooling tower. This setup will be tested in the reuse of water within industrial processes.  Yeny Taype started in November with the design and construction of her wastewater treatment module, as part of her master thesis research at the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, under the supervision of Prof. Rosa Miglio (collaborator of the project).  The second part of WP2 involves the design of the "water sensitive campus" for the UNSCH. This process has been led by Margarita Macera - currently doing her PhD at the KU Leuven, Belgium - and counted on additional resources coming from the Urban-Andes project funded by Vlir-OUS (Belgium). During 2017, information regarding the UNSCH’s master plan was collected, such as maps, new building projects and others; which was then used as input for the first designs of the campus. 
 Water budget analysis is being developed in collaboration with Dr. Wouter Buytaert from the Imperial College London, whose team develops low-cost sensors for monitoring water levels. A set of five units were   delivered for installation in Ayacucho. Tests were first performed in the Chillón River in Lima, and technical difficulties in the precision of the sensor are being addressed.  
Scenario building and  Ecological Infrastructure Strategies (EIS) design:  In collaboration with the Urban Andes project funded by the VLIR-UOS from Belgium, led by Dr. Willems (PEER PI) and Dr. Vivian D’Auria (KUL, Belgium), the team organized the I International Design Workshop in Ayacucho during 21-31 of August 2018. The event counted on participation of 25 architects and a dozen of students, coming from Peru and abroad (Belgium, Australia, South Africa, Slovenia, and Brazil). During the 10 days, the team conducted fieldwork along the basin and throughout the city, had consultation meetings with stakeholders, performed scenario analysis, did intensive design works, and validated results in workshops with stakeholders, decision makers, researchers and students.  Based on the possible development paths the team analyzed for the city and its interrelation with the basin, two concepts were developed, within which ecological infrastructure interventions could be framed: 1) “headwater city” and 2) “city and mining”. 
5-259 Agua-Andes researcher  recording hydrobiological characteristics5-259_Fernando Quinto Agua-Andes researcher  identifying vegetal species
Fernando Quinto (Agua-Andes) recording hydrobiological characteristics of a high Andean wetlandsFernando Quinto identifying plant species in a high Andean wetlands
Capacity building:
During the second year of the project, a total of seven graduate students have been actively involved in the research activities of Agua-Andes. Between October and November 2018, the Agua-Andes team was joined by two more graduate students: Vyera Chipana, civil engineer, and Selene Quispe, architect. Four of them are currently enrolled in master programs in Lima and Ayacucho. In addition to the four members already holding a master degree, the Agua-Andes team has been reinforced by Floro Ortíz, biologist and professor at the UNSCH, who is leading the activities in Ayacucho.

5-259 Nazia Loayza assembling the flocculator of her water treatment5-259 Articles and posters
Nazia Loayza (Agua-Andes) assembling the flocculator of her water treatment module The research of student Nazia Loayza has received strong attention by the national press. Her story has been published in Andina (the government official press agency), and resonated in several newspapers of major circulation 

The project team so far has contributed to the formulation of the guidelines for assessing Andean ecosystems within the framework of the payment for ecosystems mechanisms. This is an official document commissioned to the Agua-Andes spin-off Aqua-Andes Innovations by the Ministry of Environment (MINAM), and developed in collaboration with the NGO CONDESAN. The ecological infrastructure designs for the city of Ayacucho, developed in collaboration with the Urban-Andes project, were presented to the newly elected mayors of provinces and districts all over Ayacucho. As a result, the project team has established contacts with the new major of the province of Huamanga, where the city of Ayacucho is located, who is keen to involve the municipality in the science-policy dialogue activities within the project.

Potential developmental impact -  Evidence to Action
5-259 Plan de Manejo
The final report regarding the assessment of grassland and wetland management in the community of Pilpichaca has been presented to the members and authorities of the community, in April 2018. From the feedback received by representatives of the community committee, the local municipality and the regional government of Huancavelica, the document is regarded as very useful and will be used as input for their planning purposes. This means a strong contribution to the design of more effective public investment projects.
The project has contributed to the official guidelines for the assessment of Andean ecosystems, within the framework of the law for payment of ecosystem services (MERESE). This will become the official document of the Ministry of Environment, which will guide the implementation of MERESE along the country.
A portfolio of five projects on ecological infrastructure interventions at the urban scale has been developed during the I International Design Workshop. These projects contain technical and economical feasible designs for an optimal use of rainwater in the city, while improving wellbeing of neighborhoods. The projects were presented to the new municipal authorities that will take office from January 1, 2019.

Plans for  2019:
The PEER team  plans to organize the II International Design Workshop, again in collaboration with the Urban-Andes project funded by Vlir-IOS, Belgium. Back-to-back, the team will organize the first Sustainable Cities Expo in Ayacucho, where the ecological infrastructure strategies will be presented. 

The team will initiate the activities of the "Escuela de diseño e ingeniería del agua y medio ambiente - EDIAM", envisioned as a multi educational platform, where young talented get the opportunity to acquire on the ground training in the design and construction of engineering solutions, aimed at contributing to the local sustainable development. 

Peer-reviewed Publications and Proceedings:
Taboada, R. (2018) “Hacia la conquista de derechos de agua en un contexto de expansión agrícola y escasez: el caso de los ‘campesinos sin tierra’ en el ámbito de la Comisión de Usuarios Miguel Checa del valle del Chira”. En: Fort, R.; Varese, M.; C. de los Ríos (Eds.) Perú: el problema agrario en debate. SEPIA XVII.  


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