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September 2010: Andean Highlands, Ecuador

From the Photographer

Erika Nortemann 

Water, water everywhere…

It seems fitting that my trip to Ecuador to photograph watersheds in the Andean highlands above Quito would take place during the rainy season.

Mist in the air kissed my cheeks and clung to my camera while groundwater bubbled up around my shoes with each step I took. The landscape smelled earthy and rich and alive.

As I looked up from my viewfinder to take in this spectacular scene, I whispered the exclamation I'd seen painted on a wall in a nearby village, "¡Agua del páramo nos da vida!" Páramo water gives us life.

Indeed, these watersheds supply the capital city's 2 million people with 80 percent of their freshwater. To help protect this valuable resource, the Conservancy launched the Quito Water Fund (FONAG) in 2000 to help pay for watershed protection and reforestation.

Since then, monthly contributions from Quito's water and electric companies now produce nearly $1 million each year in disbursements for conservation projects in the watersheds that supply the city. FONAG has served as a model for other water fund projects the Conservancy is establishing across the region.

In June a small group of us went to gather photos, video footage and interviews documenting some of the successes of FONAG. As we ascended into the Andean highlands, we climbed above the sun and into the clouds' embrace.

On this particular day, we were focusing our attention on the natural beauty of the area. This wasn't a difficult task. Waterfalls appeared out of nowhere plunging a few inches or several feet. Rivers were strong and mighty, tearing down their course like school kids set free for the summer. The lush shades of green offered enough color to balance the visual weight of the ever-present cloud blanket.

I made this image while standing along the road as we descended from the cloud forests of Antisana and Cayambe-Coca Reserves in the Condor Bioreserve. Shot with my Canon 40D and Tokina 11-16mm lens, I thought this scene captured the journey of "páramo water" perfectly. From clouds to rain to páramo to waterfalls to river to life beyond.

¡Agua del páramo nos da vida!

Erika Nortemann is the photography archive manager and photo editor for The Nature Conservancy.

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