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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

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Panoramic view of the wetland systems; 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.

Evidence to Action
5-259 Plan de Manejo
The final report regarding the assessment of grassland and wetland management in the community of Pilpichaca was 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.
Recent project activities:
During the reporting period of March-June 2019, the team resumed fieldwork, in synergy with the Urban-Andes project (funded by VLIR, Belgium) and the Newton project (funded by the British Council). Urban-Andes is reinforcing the urban component of the PEER project, while Newton, which started on March the 1st, are reinforcing their rural component.
In the rural area, research has been focused on 1) Chiccllarazu sub-basin, the main tributary to the Cachi hydraulic infrastructure, and 2) the almost 2000 inhabitant town of Chuschi. The election of these two areas resulted from a collaboration agreement signed with the Peasant Community of Chuschi and the National Superintendence of Sanitation Services - SUNASS (the regulatory body for the water companies and associations), allowing the team to broaden the impact of the PEER project.

The research in the headwaters of the Chiccllarazu sub-basin  with hydro-ecologic data and socio-economic information will contribute to the design of “green” public investment projects within the framework of the payment for ecosystem services law (MERESE law). A common area for improvement in all projects of this kind along the country is that the interventions designed so far, with some of them even in the process of implementation, do lack  sound technical and scientific backing, since they have been constructed on the basis of perceptions and/or political influence of certain actors (e.g. water utilities, communities, water associations), this, uncertainty  whether these projects will have a positive impact on the environment and the local populations is rather high. Development of this PEER project in collaboration with the Community of Chuschi and SUNASS, which are two of the main actors within the establishment of an agreement under the MERESE law, is a unique opportunity to come up with projects that might have a more effective approach on preservation, restoration and/or sustainable management of fragile ecosystems in the Andean region. This work further involves SEDA Ayacucho (the water utility that provides water and sanitation to the cities of Ayacucho and Huanta) and the Regional Government of Ayacucho.

As a result of the collaboration established, this PEER project  research will contribute to the improvement of water and sanitation services at the rural scale. SUNASS, among its several functions, is in charge of supervising the local water providers (JASS), helping these with better management practices and access to affordable and effective technologies. For the town of Chuschi, part of the PEER research team will design and test cost-effective solutions for enhancing the quality of the water supplied to the population. The research will be done in collaboration with the local Municipality.

On April 6th, together with the Community of Chuschi, SUNASS, the Regional Government of Ayacucho (RGA), CEDAP and partner universities UNSCH and UPCH, an exploratory field visit has been carried out, in order to identify the study areas. Two wetland systems  in the headwaters of the Chiccllarazu sub-basin have been selected to periodically collect hydro-ecological and biodiversity data. Complementary socio-economic studies have been carried out to assess the pressure of anthropogenic activities on ecosystems and the ecosystem services these provide. Between April and June, up to six field visits have been organized by the research teams.

For the urban component of the project, anthropologist María Ñope,  civil engineer Vyera Chipana, and Mónica Rivera, PhD in architecture, have reinforced the Ayacucho PEER team. They have been actively collecting information (maps, shapes, urban projects from the municipality, etc.) for the design of the Ecological Infrastructure Strategies (EIS), as well as establishing contacts with relevant stakeholders, such as civil associations of the Picota and Mollepata neighborhoods, the Order of Architects of Ayacucho (Colegio de Arquitectos), the Living Heritage Program of the IADB, among others. As a result, the project team have secured participation of the Municipality of Huamanga for the 2nd International Design Workshop that will have place during 19 -28 of August of this year..
Dr. Willems visited the U.S. during May 12-18, 2019. The first stop was Tucson, where he had meetings with colleagues from the University of Arizona and presented the progress of the PEER project. The second stop was in Washington DC, where Dr. Willems had the opportunity to present the project’s results to USAID  in DC, and had the opportunity to learn more about other USAID initiatives.

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 Presentation of the PEER project to the authorities of the Peasant Community of Chuschi,  SUNASS and the Regional Government of Ayacucho [Photo courtesy of Dr. Willems]
Outreach and collaborations:

Through the project, the CCA signed a collaboration agreement with the Peasant Community of Chuschi and, another, with the National Superintendence of Sanitation Services - SUNASS (the regulatory body for the water companies and associations). Collaboration memos are underway with the Regional Government of Ayacucho, SEDA Ayacucho (the water utility of Ayacucho) and the Municipality of Chuschi as well.  With these actors, the project team will collaborate on two main initiatives:
1) Design of green public investment projects (green-PIP). The research carried out within PEER, in synergy with the Newton project, will contribute with the technical and scientific input in the design of green- PIP, through a participatory process involving the Community of Chuschi, SUNASS, SEDA Ayacucho, and the Regional Government of Ayacucho.
2) Re-design of rural sanitation. Together with SUNASS and the Municipality of Chuschi, we’ll work on the improvement of rural water and sanitation services, both developing and adapting technologies and innovating management practices.

Potential development impacts:
This PEER project, in synergy with the Newton project, is contributing to the design of green public investment projects. These projects are developed under the framework of the MERESE law and involves an actively participatory process including the Community of Chuschi, SUNASS, SEDA Ayacucho, and the Regional Government of Ayacucho.

A second potential development impact is the research focused on the improvement of the rural water and sanitation services. Our students involved in WP2 (Assessment of the water-treatment capacity of ecosystem-based designs) have already developed and validated water and waste-water modules. Through a collaboration with SUNASS and the Municipality of Chuschi, these modules will be adapted and tested in 5 water intakes that supply the town of Chuschi. The WP2 team is being reinforced by Noemí Tomaylla, a MSc student of the UNSCH, who will be leading the initiative.

Finally, at the urban level, during the 2 International Design Workshop 4 cases identified together with the Municipality of Huamanga will be tackled. As expected results of the workshop, the design of ecological infrastructures will feed the investment initiatives of the Municipality.

Future activities:

In July 2019, the PEER team expect the arrival of three students from the University of the West of England, who will spend 3-4 weeks with the Agua-Andes team in Ayacucho.

From 19 to 28 of August, in synergy with the Urban-Andes project, we'll organize the 2 International Design Workshop in Ayacucho (website:, for which the team expects participation of around 30 architects and landscape designers. The workshop is being organized in close collaboration with the UNSCH and the Municipality of Ayacucho, and the PEER project will be a stepping stone in the design of Ecological Infrastructure Strategies.

As Agua-Andes and through the PEER project, the PEER team is collaborating with the organization of the I Sustainable Cities and Communities Expo in Ayacucho, event that will be held from the 26 to 28 of August (
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