Web link

www. WaterForHumans.Org

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

From Oaxaca at noon on October 19th

The Rotary Club meeting was changed from 8 PM, Monday (October 17), to 9:30 PM and the day with Mara on Tuesday was cancelled because there was not enough room in the vehicle for all of us and the equipment.  Instead, we met with Juan Jose when they are off collecting water samples.

We arrived at the restaurant for the Antequera Rotary Club meeting at 9:15 PM, thinking that we were fifteen minutes early.  The meeting was already in session, however, so we tried to quietly join and wait for Nelly’s arrival.  The club though was ready to give us the floor immediately and we asked if they preferred us to speak in English or Spanish.  Since they decided on Spanish, we asked if we could wait for Nelly.  Nelly arrived before our 9:30 planned time and then we began.

Antequera Rotary Club with Nelly, Rick and Stan
We thanked them for their support and told them how that support had a positive impact on us obtaining the grant for the School Water Filter Project from the Bremerton Rotary Club.  We then gave them a status update about the project.  The water filter is for the Valentin Gomez Farias Elementary School in Santo Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla.  The update included information about the school itself, the water testing process, the filter selection & purchase process, filter installation & testing and operations & maintenance.  Initial water tests have already been done.  Additional testing will be done by the university (UABJO) and, possibly, a commercial laboratory, if UABJO cannot run all the tests we need.  We are working with Industrial Mass in Mexico City and our Board Member, Dr. James Fox in Seattle, to make the filter selection.  It will be purchased from Industrial Mass.  Local community members will be trained so they can do the testing, operations and maintenance.  Club members asked a number of questions about this project and other things that we are doing in Oaxaca.  This gave us an opportunity to explain Secretary Cajiga’s initiative and our involvement with it.  They thanked us for our work in Oaxaca and told us that we could depend on them for any help that was needed.  They even said that we could bring receipts for this particular project to them and they would reimburse us.  That is good to know, in case our actual expenses run over our $500 grant.  They were very excited about our work in general.  Rick and Stan are scheduled to visit the school on Thursday.

Tuesday we met with Juan Jose at 11 to discuss how to proceed with Mr. Cajiga.  Nelly is in daily contact with Ileana Sotomayor, his assistant, to get us on his schedule.  So far, no firm date/time has been set.  INSO’s  year long initiative, A Common Plan for the Common Good, consists of a very general agreement with specifics added via addenda.  In our case, however, we all think that it should be a specific contract.  We will get some guidance from the secretary’s office.

Rick suffered through the morning with nausea and an upset stomach.  He could not eat anything and took the rest of the day off to recuperate.  Stan and Nelly went to the Tuesday evening appointment with the head of the Villa de Etla.

L-R: Rumeriz, Stan, SDBBE representative
We arrived by our 6 PM appointment time, were warmly greeted at 6:10 and ushered onto a meeting room with Daniel Rumeriz Rumeriz, the head of Villa de Etla.  Shortly afterwards someone from Santo Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla joined us.  He was Maria’s (the former administration head) environmental representative and the head of the committee that protected the dump from additional illegal dumping.  We had a very frank discussion about the possibility of selecting Villa de Etla as the pilot site for a constructed wetland in the Central Valley.  We explained about Water for Humans involvement with Santo Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla since 2009 and Dr. Jhabvala’s involvement since 2010.  We then explained how the extent of the project has changed from a specific single constructed wetland for Villa de Etla to a pilot for the Central Valley and for the state.  We then explained that the selection process for the pilot site would be based on ideal conditions for the technology, the environmental impact and the social collaboration & impact.  We told him that socially and politically they had a long way to go before we would select them as the pilot site and that the selection would not be made for a number of months yet.  We also told him that the dump was a separate project and that because of it, more land may be needed for the project.

Mr Rumeriz said that they were very interested in being the pilot site and that he was calling for a meeting of the Elders in the Villa de Etla next Tuesday to discuss the matter.  We explained that we are looking at other locations but would monitor the social and political situation there from both Villa de Etla’s perspective and SDBBE’s perspective.  The SDBBE representative was cautiously happy about Villa de Etla’s ‘changed attitude’ and said that they would have to see if actions follow.

All in all, the meeting turned out well.  Villa de Etla seems to be genuinely interested in being considered as the pilot site and they know the important factors that will influence our selection process.

We returned to Oaxaca and Nelly showed Stan her favorite tamale place, a street vendor, close to the zocalo.  Stan bought two tamales for less than the price of one at our favorite tamale restaurant, ate them at home and gave them two thumbs up (at a great price).

Rick was doing much better and had zeroed in on the cause of the nausea:  lemonade. It turns out he is allergic to citrus, and this was compounded by consuming a lot of lemon-lime juice (at most meals).  After some strong antihistamine he is back “with the living.”

Later today we will meet with Jess Perry who is interested in doing a film project about water and sanitation in the face of climate change.  She  contacted us well over a year ago and we look forward to meeting her and learning more about her project. She is very interested to learn about INSO’s work, our collaboration with them and how our joint work could become part of a film. Following this, we will go to the HUB to meet with Megan, one of the founders, and Bravo Ahuja to see the ongoing work on their rain catchment systems.

Monday, October 17, 2011

News update as of 17 Oct 2011

Blog as of 17 Oct

The weekend could not have come soon enough! Last week was like 2+ weeks crammed into one. It seemed like most days started early and did not end until well after 11:30 PM. There was never a break or siesta! Many days lunch came well after 3PM, which was typically short and then back to work until late in the evening with a short break for dinner. Both Stan and I rejoiced in sleeping in and not having to get up and do much of anything. We did work a lot on the very long blog post (posted Sunday night). Both Stan and I agree the Blogger interface could really use some upgrades. Inserting photos and getting them in the correct place takes a really LONG TIME! In compounding the problem Google thought that because I am in Mexico the interface should be in Spanish. It was only after Stan figured out how to change it to English that the editing went better. For one thing the Spanish interface has even less functionality, which makes editing even slower and more difficult. We both agreed that the post is way too long, but so much happened in just a few days that we felt we needed to get as much of the story out to you as we could. We were both happy to be back at our normal lodging spot at Rosalinda’s. It is much lower key then the fancy hotel, and more our style. We are the only guests so we have the run of the place.

For me (Rick) the weekend was spent cruising the city, doing some shopping, hanging out at the zocalo and taking several siestas. On Saturday there was a large youth orchestra with well over fifty kids in it playing in the zocalo. I hung out and listened to them for quite a while as they sounded really good. In my shopping adventures, I did score a new leather brief case which holds my netbook in-style, and some very comfortable sandals, along with some groceries for breakfast. I also stopped by a glasses place to see if they would be cheaper here vs in Seattle. They would cost about the same as in the States so I did not bother with them here. I find it strange that some things are really discounted and other items are at US prices. The weather has been overcast with some light rain, but warm by Seattle standards. On Saturday it was mostly sunny and nice. On Sunday it was cooler and overcast. When I was downtown, I had a very lightweight pile jacket on (unzipped), and I saw several folks with puffy down jackets (all zipped up). This is the coolest part of the year. The weekend had its typical noises with many fireworks, loud bangs and marching bands. On Sunday it seemed like every time I would nod off during my siesta, I would be startled awake by a big bang!

Monday brings the bimonthly status meeting at INSO that lasts most of the morning and includes all of the INSO staff. The meeting is all in Spanish so Rick excused himself to start on this blog update. The meeting began by getting everyone’s input on Friday’s Water Forum to find ways to make future forums better. Other topics included the meetings with the Finance Secretary, the visit to Villa de Etla, an upcoming Expo on Sustainability at the end of this week and many other projects going on at INSO. By the end of the meeting, the entire staff was up to date on all ongoing projects.

Last week Nelly suffered from an infected wisdom tooth that is coming in. Friday, it hurt so much she did not attend the breakfast with us and the Minister, as she swung by the dentist to get a Novocain shot to calm it down for a few hours. Today, Monday, her tooth is better (the dentist can’t remove it until the swelling and infection goes away), however, she has a touch of a cold (I think last week was too stressful and long for her). Luckily for all of us, this week will not be so intense and stressful.

This week will include one or more meetings with Mr. Cajiga to hopefully finalize a contract for our work, along with meetings with community leaders and the Rotary Club. Tonight, we will meet with the Rotary Club to bring them up to date on the status of our school water filter project in Santo Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla (SDBBE). Luckily for us the meeting will start at 8 PM, not 10:30 PM, like the other club in town. Tuesday we will go with Mara and her students from Bard College to do some water sampling and then have a 6PM meeting with the municipality head of Etla. Wednesday has no meetings scheduled until 5 PM when we go to Bravo Ahuja to meet with Ines to see the ongoing work to install her rain catchment system. If we have the “day off”, we hope to go shopping with Nelly to get items for our upcoming auction. Thursday, we will meet the school administrator at SDBBE and perform a water pressure test for the filter system. Friday, is currently without meetings. Of course, this schedule may have to be rearranged once we hear back from Secretary Cajiga.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Oaxaca - as of October 14th

This our update on the meetings with Mr Cajiga as of 14 Oct. 2011

Secretary of Finance Cajiga
The last three days have been a flurry of activity. After our arrival on Monday night, we have been in what seems like constant meetings with the Oaxaca State Government. Tuesday afternoon was our first meeting with the Finance Minister (Mr. Cajiga) and some of his team. After a short very late lunch (4pm) we were back in the INSO office working on our presentation for the next day and worked on several documents we needed to have ready to print off to hand out to the participants. The documents provided everyone with a description of who WFH is and what we do, along with several letters from the community leaders we are working with. Wednesday morning came early since we needed to finish the documents and get
them printed before the driver came to get us at about 9am. Nelly has been extremely helpful in making sure all the translated documents are correct and she has helped us write several new documents in preparation of these meetings. On Wednesday we were in meetings with the Minister and his staff for most of the day! The meetings are taking place in a new large office campus about 40 minutes outside the city. This complex was built to house all the government offices. On the upside for the public it is a one stop get everything done in one place type layout. On the down side it is way out of town. Luckily for us we have a driver with a minivan (7 passengers) that takes us everywhere we need to go.

R-L: Juan Jose, Dr. Jhabvala, Josefina, Carlos
Like most of the meetings they started 45 minutes late, but when the minister arrived we jumped into action. We discussed the state of wastewater treatment plants throughout the Central Valley, and after some heated discussions the group agreed to form a team of government agencies and INSO & WFH to review the viability of the existing treatment plants. Erik Marnitez (UABJO) was able to attend the meeting and added some very good background on a number of plants that he and his students analyzed for their water quality parameters and overall health. Dr. Jhabvala (Dr. J) also made some significant contributions to the meeting. After explaining how constructed wetlands can be part of the solution, there was a dissenting view expressed about the ability of wetlands to clean up wastewater at all and that activated sludge plants

clean 90% of wastewater. This gave the ‘good’ Dr. an opportunity to further explain how properly designed and implemented constructed wetlands all over the world, including Mexico, clean well over 90% of waste and how activated sludge plants clean water up to 90% but leave massive amounts of contaminated sludge that then needs to be dealt with and normally just piles up. This turned out to be a good education for the dissenter as well as everyone else in the room.

The minister fully understood that his internal team does not have the wherewithal to fully analyze the state of the current plants fairly. Thus, WFH with the help of Dr J (and hopefully Tressie Word) will oversee the work of the minister’s staff to provide an objective analysis of the situation. Nelly provided us with highlights of the conversation. She took great notes (in Spanish) which we were able to understand. The verbal conversation goes by way too fast. This situation reminds Rick of when he was first working in Germany and all the meetings there were in German.

When the discussion turned to the possibility of establishing a certified testing lab in the state (to analyze the quality of waste water), the initial comments were in favor of turning that over to CONAGUA (the federal water commission) and CEA (the state water commission). However, Erik spoke about the work that he has done at the university and the possibility of setting up an independent certified laboratory. We would like to be able to have an independent (or part of UABJO) lab that is not located on campus since UABJO seems to be closed more than open due to protests. Erik stated the lab could be located off campus and be a joint effort with UABJO. In addition, we don’t like the idea that it would be run by CONAUGA & CEA because this is like the fox guarding the hen house.

Meeting with the Finance Minister
The next topic discussed was about irrigation water quantity and quality. Both the state and federal representatives gave their perspectives on the situation. What was both sad and somewhat funny is that the state water commission representative who has worked in several different states talked about a “great program” he implemented, but was stopped because the aquifer went dry! The minister rolled his eyes, as he fully understood this was not a good strategy. Then another government representative spoke about his program and how great it was until the region suffered from increased desertification. Again, the minister understood that this was not a good strategy. Juan Jose led the discussion for both INSO and WFH, since all the meetings were in Spanish. Juan Jose spoke about the potential of using new and innovative techniques to better capture rain water and help manage stream & river flow rates that
will increase the availability of irrigation water. In addition, he spoke about how to implement changes in irrigation practices to increase water productivity. We finally left the office complex about 3:30 pm and were driven back to the city to have a late lunch.

Etla Treatment Plant, R-L: Nelly, Erik, 3 Etla officials
Thursday was a day for us to look at three potential sites for the possible repair or replacement of existing treatment plants. First, we went go out to Etla and met with the new Municipality head. As you may know, the political situation in Etla is challenging. We waited for well over an hour and a half (one hour is customary) and the Municipality head would not receive us, so we decided to go to the treatment plant and see the work that Etla is doing to rehab the inadequate system. Shortly after we arrived at the plant the Municipality folks all showed up! From what we understand the Minister told them to respect our time and meet with us to learn more about our ideas for this site. We spoke
for a good 45 minutes and agreed to continue the discussion next Tuesday at 6PM.

Tlacolula Treatment Plant
We then drove to the other side of Oaxaca City to Tlacolula (population 20,000) to see the plant there. Eirk could not join us. However, he did his Master’s thesis on how to incorporate a wetland at this plant several years ago. This is the one that Tressie and the Engineers without Borders group from Eurika, CA, worked up a full redesign on and did not implement due to political issues in the town. We had difficulty finding the site because the map Erik gave us was inadequate. Thursday is “Market Day” and the roads we were directed to go on were blocked by the market. After wandering around for a while we went to the municipal offices to get directions around the market to the plant. We made it to the plant and looked around. The system is minimal at best with two large facultative lagoons. On the up side there is a lot of open land
around the plant. On the downside it a very large community and we would not be able to implement many of our other ideas at this scale right out of the box.
Biggest Tree in the World
Because we lost a good 45+ minutes getting lost trying to find the treatment plant we did not have time to visit the last site. However, on our way back to meet with Juan Jose for a 7pm meeting, we stopped off at what is said to be the “largest and oldest tree” in the world in Tule. We had a great seven year old girl as our guide and she pointed out all of the animal-like features of the grand tree.

Working on the proposal
Upon arriving back at INSO at 7pm we started work on a proposal to present to the minister at our breakfast meeting Friday morning. Earlier in the day before we went on our tour, we started drafting our ideas. We worked well past 10:30pm on our proposal which was based on action items the minister brought up throughout our meetings.

We decided on a four part plan that will take six months to complete. It covers the following:
1. A vision-/strategy for water and sanitation for the Central Valley
2. A review team that will evaluate the existing treatment plants and divide them into three categories.
a. Fixable
b. abandoned/scrap/not worth fixing
c. More extensive research required.
This team will work with CEA (the state water commission) in an oversight and advisor function.

3. Produce a process document that municipalities will follow to justify their request for water and sanitation improvements.
This report will outline a basic process for doing economic analyses that includes the engineering, social and environmental effects. The minister is an economist and wants to have a way to objectively evaluate potential projects so he can prioritize them correctly.

4. Pilot project development.
This will cover the planning and pre-implementation costs of pilot projects that reinforce our strategy and show that some of the innovative recommendations are both valid and cost effective.

Some of the pilot projects we are planning for both urban and rural locations are:
  • “Family ecosystems”
  • Storm water management
  • Industrial and household water use reduction program (education and equipment)
  • Dry latrines and ultra-low volume flush toilets
  • Greywater treatment
  • Rainwater Harvesting.
This joint proposal is expected to cost $1,000,000P ($80,000 USD) over a six month period.

Friday was our last day in the fancy hotel and the day of the 31st INSO Water Forum (Foro Oaxaqueno del Agua-quarterly meetings sponsored by INSO to discuss water and sanitation issues in Oaxaca). We had a very brief breakfast with the minister. He had to leave early for a meeting with the governor. However, we did have the opportunity to present our proposal to him and it was well received. Mr. Cajiga said his initial impression is that the structure and costs are in line with his budget and expectations. He then said he would like to make the INSO &WFH group his “think tank” for advice on water and sanitation. With that said he directed his assistant to arrange a meeting for next week to finalize the proposal.

Water Forum Sign
Water Forum Head Table with Secretary Cajiga
Mrs. Ines Avelina Barroso
We then rushed off to the 31st Water Forum, in which the minister opened the forum and anno-unced the formation of a yearlong project (A Common Plan for the Common Good) with INSO to further the work they have been doing in the valley for the past 20+ years. Then, he briefly spoke about the proposed partnership with INSO & WFH. The minster then slipped out to go to Mexico City. Juan Jose gave the keynote presentation at the Water Forum: ‘A Common Plan

for the Common Good’. He introduced the idea and highlighted that it would include technical, environmental and social aspects to all future plans for water and sanitation in the Central Valley. Towards the end of the forum Mrs. Ines Avelina Barroso made a presentation about the rainwater harvesting program in Bravo Ahuja (which WFH is helping to fund). We met her after the forum and arranged to visit the site on Wednesday at 1700. Maria, the former head of Santo Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla also attended the meeting. We spent several minutes after the meeting with her to get her views of the situation with the wastewater treatment plant in Etla. We are looking forward to next Tuesday’s meeting there. The forum ended about 12:45 and we went back to INSO to wrap up our work for the week.
L-R: Stan, Maria, Santa Domingo official, Rick

We are very much looking forward to a “weekend off.”

Rick and Stan

Saturday, October 15, 2011

From Oaxaca - October 11th

We made it to Oaxaca Monday evening October 10th.  We left Seattle on Sunday, the 9th, and spent the night in Houston with Dr. Firdaus Jhabvala (Natural Systems International) and his wife, Josefina.  The next day, Monday, we all went to Mexico City, and ate a late lunch at the airport.  Firdaus (Dr. J) and Josefina left the airport and spent the night in Mexico City, so that they could renew Josefina’s visa on Tuesday.  Rick and Stan left the airport and continued on the final leg of their trip to Oaxaca.  Nelly met us at the airport and took us to the hotel.  This is a government provided hotel which is, by far, more luxurious then the accommodations we are used to.

From Bard College
Tuesday morning we ate at one of our usual breakfast locations, stopped to buy fruit from our usual fruit vendor (it was good to see her again) and proceeded to INSO.  There, we met the INSO staff as they arrived for work, along with a visiting professor and two students from Bard College in New York.  Nelly told us the night before that the plan was to visit Erik Torres (chemistry professor) at 10 AM at the university (UABJO-Universidad Autonoma Benito Juarez de Oaxaca) and then visit with government officials at 5:30 in the afternoon.  The government was sending a car to take us to the afternoon meeting.  By Tuesday morning, things had changed.  There was a disturbance at the university (strike) and the government meeting was changed to 1 o’clock.  So, Erik came to us and the car picked us up at noon.

Erik from UABJO
When Juan Jose came in we met with him to discuss the planned meetings, our respective roles in them and potential talking points to bring up.  After strategizing with him for about an hour, Erik showed up and we spent time with him.  Erik brought us up to date on his end. He showed us some new data from Santo Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla water samples collected and analyzed by his students.  He has a much closer working relationship with Carlos (at INSO) on the Water Forum.  The UABJO constructed wetland is in good working order and he is trying to reduce its gas emissions to minimize the future fire potential.  Work with Etla is as challenging as ever.  They asked him to recommend a plan to move forward and then refused to sign, cooperate or comment on his proposal.  He has also developed a comprehensive manual for a potential certified lab.  He has been very busy on several fronts.

Our first meeting with Secretary Cajiga
A van picked us up at INSO at noon and took us to the state office buildings about thirty km away.  Besides Mr. Cajiga, the Secretary of Finance, there were representatives from CONAQUA (federal water commission), CEA (state water commission), ADOSAPACO (municipal water department), INSO and WFH.  The discussion centered around rainwater harvesting.  Juan Jose gave a lengthy presentation, which was followed by a discussion of ways to implement rainwater harvesting pilot projects. There was a lot of interest at all levels for trying new ways of obtaining water and most seemed to have an open mind about doing something. However, no concrete plans were made to do anything.  Tomorrow the topic of discussion will be sanitation.

We returned to INSO, ate a late lunch and worked with Nelly to prepare a PowerPoint introduction to and handouts about Water for Humans for tomorrow.  We then ate dinner with Mara (professor from Bard College) and went back to the hotel.  There, we ran into Firdaus and Josephina in the lobby where we spent about ninety minutes bringing each other up to date on our experiences that day and planning for tomorrow.  We went to bed about 11PM to be ready for another long day in the morning.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Save the date -- Thursday November 10th, 7-9pm - Fall Fiesta!

We are proud to announce that in conjunction with Seattle University - Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), we will be holding a Fall Fiesta fundraiser, to be held at Seattle U. The event will include a silent auction of artwork, pottery and textiles directly from Oaxaca, and many other great gifts and experiences to bid on.

We also hope to secure the Seattle based Oaxaca band (they have the largest selection of authentic Oaxaca music in the US). This should be a fun event with more details coming.

Upcoming Trip to Oaxaca Mexico

Upcoming Mexico Trip
Finally, after more than nine months, we have had a major breakthrough with the state government.

Water for Humans (WFH) will be traveling to Oaxaca to meet with Senor Cajiga, the Oaxaca State Finance Minister, on Oct 10th. The minister has agreed to meet with us (paying our travel) to discuss working on a strategy for water and sanitation, first for the central valley and hopefully for the entire state. This work will be divided between WFH and our partner NGO: Instituto de la Naturaleza y la Sociedad de Oaxaca INSO. WFH will be bringing Dr. Firdaus Jhabvala (from Natural Systems International/Biohabitats) to help with contracting and municipal sanitation.

Our goals for the finance minister are to do the following:
  • Secure a contract to develop a strategy for water and sanitation projects.
  • Secure commitments/funding for pilot projects.
We will be in Oaxaca for two weeks working with the Senor Cajiga and following up on our other projects: school water filer and rain catchment.