Combatting Climate Change through the Protection of Hydric Areas in Ecuador
In 2007, the municipal government of Loja, Ecuador approved the ordinance for the protection of micro-watersheds and other areas of hydric importance. Updated in 2020, the ordinance was issued for the protection and restoration of water sources, fragile ecosystems, biodiversity and environmental services through the creation and management of the Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Area. These local conservation areas protect the natural state of forests, páramos, and other fragile ecosystems, ultimately recovering ecosystem functionality in areas that have been altered in some way.
To date, Loja has 182,858 acres in Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Areas, of which 71,660 acres are areas of hydric importance or protect local water sources. Areas that were selected were determined a priority for the provision of environmental services, especially water, ecological connectivity, and biodiversity protection.
Nature and Culture has identified 72 water sources which are the primary source of potable water for the province of Loja, 13 of them provide water to the urban sector and 18 areas of hydric importance provide water to the capitals. Some of the areas identified have a high degree of degradation, mainly due to the change of land use due to agricultural activities.
How local governments support the maintenance of natural ecosystems that provide water to their citizens
José Romero, Nature and Culture’s Coordinator for Areas of Hydric Importance, states that it is a priority to support local governments and establish conservation measures to protect the ecosystems that provide water to population centers. In the province of Loja, this process has been developed together with the Regional Water Fund (FORAGUA) and the Municipal Government, which has recently identified 7 areas of water interest with high priority for intervention: El Sauce, Cachipirca, El Cisne, San Lucas, Chantaco, Taquil, and Tenería. Within these areas, there are 6,819.14 acres of natural forests that store and release water, yet they have been deforested and converted into pastures. The land use has altered significantly, jeopardizing the quantity and quality of water available.
Faced with these results, the Municipal Government of Loja, as part of the management of water sources, is promoting Conservation Agreements for Water and Forests among the owners of the properties settled in these areas of hydric importance, Water Management Boards, cooperation agencies and the local government.
These agreements aim to ensure conservation, recover degraded areas and comprehensively manage forests and water resources located in the water sources and Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Areas of the province. This is part of the process of reversing degradation and recovering ecological functionality, in other words, improving the capacity of water sources in this area.
Currently, 10 additional conservation agreements have been signed between private owners and Drinking Water Management Boards of the Jimbilla, San Lucas, Taquil, Malacatos parishes and buffer zones of the Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Areas.
Ángel Jaramillo, Nature and Culture Project Coordinator, stated that the 10 conservation agreements signed will allow the conservation and recovery of 336.48 acres. They include the active and passive restoration of around 74 acres, through agroforestry systems, silvopastoral systems and block planting of native forest species, which allows ecological succession processes to be carried out; and 262.57 acres of primary and secondary forest are committed to being conserved and maintained.
Francisco Gordillo, technical secretary of FORAGUA, points out that areas that are not covered by native forest erode, degrade, and in the face of climate change, the dragging of sediments into streams and rivers occurs violently, and creates problems at lower elevations including floods and other harmful damage to local populations.
Gordillo states that for these reasons it is recommended that municipalities have ordinances to conserve and protect nearby ecosystems, and thus reduce the risk and vulnerability to global warming. In addition, Gordillo points out that, by establishing these ordinances, local governments will be able to count on Municipal Conservation and Sustainable Use Areas, and invest economic resources to take care of water sources together with the farmers. In addition, he mentioned that the financial sustainability of this model is based on the environmental tax and on measures to regulate land use and occupation. Above all, he points out that when defining this regulation, incentives should be considered for the owners who reside in the upper parts of the basins, to guarantee the protection of water sources.
Within this cooperation process, Felipe Serrano, Nature and Culture’s Ecuador Country Director, commented that everyone, including aid workers, are moved by the sense of urgency, in his message he expressed his concern about the consequences and effects of climate change, “We do not know what is going to happen, the levels of deforestation in the country maintain the same trend, every year around 247,105.38 acres are deforested in Ecuador and the trend of forest reduction in Loja has been the same, that is, deforestation has not stopped.”
Likewise, Serrano explained that areas of water importance, such as the micro-basins that supply drinking water and irrigation to the province of Loja, are in a constant process of transformation due to the change in land use.
Within these global phenomena of climate change and with the transformation of forests, the so-called water buffers and before the announcement of the arrival of the El Niño Phenomenon, Serrano spoke of the uncertainty that the population is going through and raised the following question, “What will happen to the city and the flows of the rivers if we do not have buffer forests? The only infrastructure that will defend us from these phenomena are the forests and grasslands of the headwaters.”
Finally, he called for the joint search for mechanisms to protect the natural infrastructure of the forests that provide water and defend us from the onslaught of climate change, collaborations and coordination that must be sustained over time, he stressed.
Luís Gutiérrez, president of the Drinking Water Board, San Francisco Belén of the Malacatos parish, mentions that it is essential to protect the environment, in an articulated way with the boards of water administrators, to have drinking water in Lojan homes. “We are 900 users distributed in 11 neighborhoods and thanks to institutions such as FORAGUA, the Municipality of Loja, Nature and Culture International and Andes Amazon Fund, for these agreements that have motivated us to continue protecting and caring for water.”
At the signing event of the conservation agreements for water and forests, Loja Mayor, Franco Quezada Montesinos stated, “We must protect water. We must conserve forests. And this must be done with management and in common agreements with those who take care of water.” The mayor focused on the need to improve institutional work through local, national and international cooperation, to establish comprehensive projects that serve citizens, and pointed out that this management must be carried out honestly and quickly.
If everyone learned to protect water, we would achieve great changes. That is why mitigating the social and environmental crisis to a large extent is everyone’s task, of citizens in both sectors: urban and rural; landowners in micro-watersheds and communities living near water sources; drinking water boards; and public and private institutions; in addition to international cooperation that allows the consolidation of collective agreements.