Science in the service of freshwater conservation
Ensuring long-term water security in Argentina is essential to adapting to climate change and promoting inclusive growth and sustainable development. Although water policy has gained greater prominence in the national agenda, measures that can strengthen multilevel and basin-specific governance, economic regulation frameworks, planning, and investment are still needed.
Water risks hamper Argentina's sustainable development since agriculture accounts for 6.4 percent of the GDP. Floods are responsible for 95 percent of the annual disaster-related economic losses, and severe droughts have a devastating impact on the economy.
Megatrends such as climate change, demographic challenge, and urban expansion (informal settlements in particular) will further exacerbate water risks, as well as competition between domestic, industrial, agricultural, and environmental uses.
Customized approaches to tackle the diverse water challenges
Delivering clean and reliable water may be the single most significant challenge that Latin America's growing cities face. That is why water is one of the pillars of The Nature Conservancy's (TNC) work in Argentina. The Program's freshwater strategy focuses on three areas:
- Generating Scientific Information – We carry out Blueprint studies that analyze the state of freshwater ecosystems and define priority conservation interventions through productive and natural landscapes.
- Strategic Watershed Protection and Restoration – We help create Water Funds that channel public and private investments to watershed protection and promote transparent and robust governance.
- Water-stewardship activities – We provide water stewardship practitioners in companies with a standardized approach and indicators to quantify and communicate the volumetric water benefits.
All three areas have an underlying aspiration and approach: to conserve Argentina's water sources by connecting people and nature through science, smart networking, and joint learning.
GENERATING SCIENCE FOR WATER SECURITY
TNC's Argentina Program is leading blueprint studies to identify threats and risks to water security and quick-win opportunities for conservation strategies. The findings will serve as a starting point for the future participatory development of a full-fledged Portfolio to protect watersheds in priority areas of Argentina, starting with Patagonia and Gran Chaco regions. Both have mighty rivers with significant opportunities, such as the Chubut, the Gallegos, and the Bermejo, to name but a few.
The research includes aquatic networks' key attributes, such as river connectivity and discharge, to define priority ecosystem services and develop mechanisms and actions that can positively impact sustainable agricultural production, freshwater conservation, and water security.
CONTRIBUTING TO WATERSHED PROTECTION & GOVERNANCE
TNC works closely with the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB), FEMSA Foundation, Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the International Climate Initiative (IKI), all partners in the Latin American Water Funds Partnership (LAWFP), to contribute to Latin America and the Caribbean's water security through the creation and strengthening of Water Funds. The work of the LAWFP provides methodologies, scientific assurance, knowledge, training, and other valuable tools that bring together government agencies, civil society, and businesses to find nature-based solutions that can address the water crisis facing Latin America and the world in innovative ways.
Water Funds are organizations that design and enhance financial and governance mechanisms that unite public, private, and civil society stakeholders around a common goal to contribute to water security and sustainable watershed management through nature-based solutions. These organizations enhance collective action with a long-term perspective.
In 2017, the LAWFP, through TNC, led a study to evaluate the impact climate change and years of water overutilization have had on the Mendoza River's flow after the region experienced its worst drought in 100 years. The study indicated that a Water Fund would be an ideal mechanism to coordinate actions that protect and restore the Mendoza River Basin, located in western Argentina's Mendoza province.
Mendoza is the first Water Fund to be implemented in Argentina, currently in its Design Phase. In 2020, the group finished developing a Portfolio of priority areas to guide interventions in places where the Fund will provide the most significant benefits. Two field projects have been launched to showcase the Water Fund's potential impact. One is a Water Stewardship Project, consisting of the restoration of high-altitude wetlands in the Aconcagua National Park. And the other is an ABI restoration project in fire-degraded areas of the Blanco River.
In 2019, TNC launched a second study in Argentina to evaluate the feasibility of a Water Fund in the Chubut River area. Results identified that such a mechanism could mitigate and solve the water security issues that impact the basin and that there were enough interested stakeholders to foster such a mechanism.
In 2020, with the collaboration of Coca-Cola Argentina and CONICET, TNC worked to enable conditions to advance to the Water Fund's Design phase.
WATER STEWARDSHIP ACTIVITIES
Volumetric water benefits are the volume of water resulting from water stewardship activities relative to a unit of time.
Volumetric water benefit accounting provides water stewardship practitioners in companies with a standardized approach and indicators to quantify and communicate their efforts on water stewardship on the ground. It also offers complementary indicators to measure nonvolumetric outputs that increase the likelihood of generating social, economic, and environmental benefits and solving shared water challenges, such as co-benefits to biodiversity.
In the Mendoza River Basin, Coca-Cola Argentina, with TNC's technical support, implements a Water Stewardship Project. The goal is to guide the company's volumetric benefit efforts in the production of its soft drinks. The identification showed that the high-altitude wetlands in the Aconcagua Mountain present the greatest possibility for restoration and can significantly impact the project's objectives. The Aconcagua Provincial Park is of particular importance to the work because that is where the basin's headwaters are and where 95% of the Mendoza River flow originates. This project is an important contribution to the strategic goals of the Mendoza Water Fund.
And in 2021, TNC and PepsiCo began implementing a volumetric benefit initiative at the General Pueyrredón Basin in the southeastern portion of the Buenos Aires province. Groundwater is the only source of supply for urban, agricultural, and industrial purposes at the Pueyrredón district, and rainwater that is not incorporated into the aquifer runs off superficially, leading to water erosion that degrades soils and can affect densely populated areas located downstream.
The project seeks to reduce the risk of water erosion in the upper parts of the basin and sedimentation in the lower areas through the active restoration of slopes, filter strips, and grassed waterways and by piloting irrigation-efficient possibilities.