Rick and Stan were in Oaxaca from October 10th through October 22nd to further Water for Humans' mission. It was a well spent two weeks that included the following highlights: began negotiating a contract with the state of Oaxaca to provide advice on water and sanitation issues, met Dr. Jhabvala for the first time, followed up with the water filter project at the Valentin Gomez Farias Elementary School in Santo Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla, checked up on the status of the rainwater harvesting project in the Bravo Ahuja neighborhood of Oaxaca City and attended the 31st Water Forum of Oaxaca. The following covers these highlights in more detail.
State of Oaxaca Contract
Water for Humans participated in a number of meetings with the Secretary of Finance of Oaxaca. In attendance were Secretary of Finance Gerardo Cajiga, Water for Humans, Instituto de la Naturaleza y la Sociedad de Oaxaca (INSO), Natural Systems International (NSI), Universidad Autonoma Benito Juarez de Oaxaca (UABJO), CONAGUA (federal water commission), CEA (state water commission) and ADOSAPACO (municipal water department). We met with this group for two full days. The first day we discussed the state of water in the central valley and how rainwater harvesting could help. The second day focused on wastewater treatment and irrigation. From these meetings, we came up with a four part proposal to be completed over the next six months to advise the secretary on water and sanitation issues. Within six months (if approved), WFH, NSI and INSO will deliver to the secretary:
- A vision and strategy for water and sanitation for the State of Oaxaca
- A diagnosis (with CEA) of the failed wastewater treatment plants in the State
- Guidelines for evaluating future water and sanitation projects in the state for funding
- Recommended Technology Transfer projects to demonstrate solutions
Per the direction of Mr Cajiga, we spent one day touring several wastewater treatment plants in the central valley. First was a meeting with the municipality head of Etla. Upon our arrival at Etla, the mayor would not receive us, so we went to the old treatment system at the dumpsite to see if they were still trying to rehab it. Shortly after we arrived, the municipality head and his staff joined us. We think this was only because they had received a call from Mr. Cajiga's office. They were very open and listened to our potential plan. We stressed that we have many options available to us to build our pilot plant and one of the selection criteria will be how well the citizens and politics are that govern the site. As you may know, Etla and Santo Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla do not see eye to eye on many issues. We stated very clearly that we would be watching to see if this relationship improves, such that the needs of SDBBE are met by the municipality. We trust our counterparts in SDBBE to give us a truthful assessment to help us make any decisions about moving forward with a treatment plant in SDBBE. Next, we went to Tlacolula to visit their plant. As you may know, Tressie and a group from Engineers without Borders proposed a natural system addition to this plant three to four years ago, but dropped the project due to political issues. We had hoped to tour one more site, but we did not have enough time (as we got lost trying to find the entrance to the Tlacolula plant).
Dr. Firdaus Jhabvala (Natural Systems International)
After talking to and emailing Dr.Jhabvala (with NSI) for over eighteen months, we finally met him in person. The summer of 2010, we hired him to travel to Oaxaca to visit INSO and the wastewater treatment system at Santa Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla (SDBBE). We have been working closely with him since then. He joined us for our first week in Oaxaca and attended the state government meetings with us. Dr. J (as we affectionately refer to him) lived in Oaxaca many years ago, soon after completing his Ph.D. in economics, and taught at a local university. Two of his former students participated in the meetings. He has been instrumental in the contract negotiations and will also be instrumental in fulfilling our six month proposed contract obligations.
We also attended INSO's 31st Water Forum on Friday, October 14th. Finance Minister Cajiga opened the Forum and launched INSO's plan: A Common Plan for the Common Good. Juan Jose Consejo, the Executive Director of INSO, gave the keynote address in which he explained the details of the plan. It looks at the technical, social and environmental components of all potential water and sanitation projects to determine which ones to pursue. This program is a yearlong effort in which the government has funded 20% of the program cost. The project will align with our proposed strategy and give us enhanced input to the plan. One of the presentations was by Inez Barroso on the Bravo Ahuja Rain Harvesting Project. Maria Soledad Diaz Gonzalez, the former head of Santo Domingo Barrio Bajo Etla, also attended. We spoke to her after the forum to get her opinion of what was going on with Villa de Etla with regards to the wastewater treatment plant. That will help us decide how well Etla is doing on the social (and political) front when we decide whether or not to put the initial constructed wetland (technology transfer demonstration project) there.
On Monday, October 17th, we attended the Antequera Rotary Club meeting to bring them up to date on the water filter project at the Valentin Gomez Farias Elementary School in SDBBE. The club was very excited about our work in Oaxaca in general and about the water filter project in particular. They said that we could bring receipts for work on the project to them and they would reimburse us. It is good to know that we can go over our $500 grant (from the Bremerton Rotary Club), if we need to, and still complete the project. They also offered to help find the right water testing company, if needed.
We visited the school on Thursday, the 20th. There, we met the school principal and the parental committee that is overseeing the school's transition to filtered municipal drinking water. At the school, we discovered that the lavatory water that will be filtered to drinking water quality includes surface water during the rainy season. The water goes from municipal water pipes to an underground cistern. From there it is pumped to a water tank on the roof of the lavatory and then to the lavatory faucets. During the rainy season, rainwater from the surface finds its way into the cistern, introducing unknown contaminants into the system. Because of this the installation will be more complex than originally planned. We will have to install a separate storage tank (200 liters) and booster pump to provide the needed water pressure. We are now pricing out a solution that filters piped water only to drinking water quality.
We have been in contact with Industrial Mass in Mexico City to purchase the water filter. We are getting advice from them, as well as our Board Member, James Fox.
On Wednesday, October 19th, we met with Mrs. Inez Avelina Barroso and the residential committee at Bravo Ahuja to visit the rainwater harvesting project that we are financially supporting. Mrs. Barroso is the community activist who initiated this project. Joining Nelly, Stan and Rick was Alejandra, who is heading up this project from INSO. These ladies have taken on this project so that their homes can have water year round. They have been trying to conserve and harvest rainwater using makeshift techniques and have managed to have water now when their neighbors do not. Working with INSO, they have big plans to build a 20,000 liter underground cistern (for each home) to provide them with lots of water between rainy seasons. They hope to have enough water to provide their neighbors with some water when they run out.
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