We gulped two cups of coffee this morning in anticipation of the Grupo de Saneamiento meeting (Sanitation Group of the Water Forum). Juan Jose of INSO hastily organized the Group meeting (while we are still in town) to facilitate discussion between many key players involved in the potential wetland wastewater treatment project, including federal and state government representatives. Having visited the university’s wetland on Thursday, Justino (Guadalupe Etla), Maria & Camerio (Santo Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla), and Carlos (INSO), were well informed of the ins and outs of this type of wastewater treatment system. Also in attendance were Juan Jose and Francisco of INSO, Federal and State Commissioners of Water, and us, of course.
Carlos and Juan Jose facilitated the conversation by asking for observations, concerns and goals from each of the parties involved. We couldn’t have asked for a better combination to put our thinking caps on and problem-solve; at local, regional and national levels, we’ve gained necessary support to move a wetland sewage treatment project forward in Santo Domingo. The over-riding consensus brought to the table was that the time is now to lead the way in alternative technology, to be an example other communities can emulate, with sewage treatment, household rainwater catchment, composting latrines, and other clean water solutions. The group discussed at length how a wetland sewage treatment system in Santo Domingo could lead as an example to many other communities. Also, support from the national level could coincide with the 2010 celebrations (Mexican Independence bicentennial -- 1810 and Mexican Revolution centennial -- 1910). To honor these special events, all levels of Mexico’s government are supporting many civil projects. As a result, this type of sustainability project may fit nicely into their objectives. Many combined actions, both individual and cooperative, will allow humans and the natural environment alike to benefit. These actions are interrelated, and must be recognized by the government if they are to gain financial and political support.
Maria of Santo Domingo addressed again the issue of getting Etla on board, who up until now hasn’t been a part of the discussion; the State Water Commissioner said he would facilitate a conversation in order to come up with “real” solutions. Furthermore, these officials were very concerned about the damaged sewage pipe which impacts Santo Domingo, and pledged to work to remedy the situation. This fact alone is huge, as it will at least eliminate the sewage overflow into Santo Domingo. It is also important the federal and state government representatives visit the university’s wetland project. They pledged to coordinate with Erik (UMBJO) to see firsthand how wetland technology can work here in Mexico. This will be followed by conducting a follow-up review and looking at the initial project proposal. Depending on the outcome, the government could provide up to 70 percent of the project costs! It is also important to mention that private and state engineers are pressuring pueblos such as these to put in more expensive sewage plants, 70-90 percent of which fail due to lack of resources for maintenance, or poor design and construction. Both Maria and Justino were concerned about the potential wetland project costs, as much as we were about everyone’s commitment from all levels. Juan Jose did a magnificent job of tying this up, in stating that we do not need to discuss project costs at this point, we only need to agree to work together to bring this important opportunity and project to reality. With that said, we all agreed that this is a unique opportunity to demonstrate appropriate sustainable solutions, and pledged to work to ensure its success.
This meeting cascaded us even closer to reaching our water goals. Our business plan is significantly different now (all for the better), as it looks like we are implementing a major project related to our long-term mission. The group still needs to decide on a fix for the currently leaking black water pipe in Etla (which routinely overflows through Santo Domingo and lower communities). We are hopeful the state and federal representatives, who now are aware and very concerned about the issue, can assist in finding a speedy solution. In addition, we need to think about our overall business plan and other possible revenue streams such as the original filter idea.
On Monday afternoon, we will head back to Santo Domingo with Erik and other university staff to survey the site. This will include preliminary water testing, slope analysis and other basic design parameters. These data will allow Tressie and the UABJO team to scope out a preliminary design and project plan, as well as provide us with the necessary information for the proposals we will use for fundraising.