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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

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