La ciudad de Quito. El atardecer ilumina al volcán  Cotopaxi
Quito La ciudad de Quito. El atardecer ilumina al volcán Cotopaxi © Federico Viegener /TNC Photo Contest 2019

Ecuador

Protecting Ecuador's Water through Watershed Management

Water Security in the region has been one of TNC's main priorities for over 20 years

Young trees native to dry tropical forests are grown in this tree nursery at Punta La Gorda near the coastal town of Bahía de Caraquez in Ecuador’s Manabí Province as part of a reforestation program for the Cordillera Balsamo.  Ecuador’s dry tropical forests lodge globally important remnants of unique habitats and species, as native flora and fauna have had to specially adapt to extreme annual cycles of rain and drought.
Nature-based Solutions Young trees native to dry tropical forests are grown in this tree nursery at Punta La Gorda near the coastal town of Bahía de Caraquez in Ecuador’s Manabí Province as part of a reforestation program for the Cordillera Balsamo. Ecuador’s dry tropical forests lodge globally important remnants of unique habitats and species, as native flora and fauna have had to specially adapt to extreme annual cycles of rain and drought. © Erika Nortemann/The Nature Conservancy

Water security shows increasing challenges in several parts of the world, and Ecuador is no exception.  TNC works in conservation projects that improve watershed management decision-making to reduce water security risks. Ecuador's natural resources are its biggest asset and main ally.

Our work has led to the development of innovative solutions to contribute to water security by effectively protecting and monitoring rivers in Ecuador. Success has been achieved by the creation of four Water Funds: FONAG (Quito Water Fund, Guayllabamba river basin), FONDAGUA (Guayaquil Water Fund, Daule river basin), FONAPA (Paute river basin) and Tungurahua Water Fund.

We understand that this model is replicable, adaptable to global contexts interested in investing in water. Water Funds become key stakeholders with local information and links, as they know the areas and build direct relationships with beneficiaries and landowners. Their efforts are instrumental to achieve clean water in Ecuador.

Un grupo de vicuñas juegan al frente del Chimborazo en Ecuador
Vicuñas at Chimborazo A group of vicuña llamas play around in front of Mt. Chimborazo, in Ecuador. © Gustavo Pazmiño / TNC Photo Contest 2019

Reaching water security through watershed management

Water Funds were created with the objective to guarantee water quantity and quality for nature, human and productive activities. With this in mind, TNC has actively supported Water Funds in monitoring, fundraising and other efforts vital efforts during their consolidation and operation. 

Water funds have successfully implemented several conservation agreements with owners that take an active part in the decision-making of watersheds, impacting positively on this vital resource provided to Ecuador's main cities. 

The success of the Water Fund model, created in Ecuador 20 years ago, has shown related problems that threaten water security in the country. Although there are challenges to address the loss of biodiversity and natural areas, challenges go beyond water source protection. TNC Ecuador works on contributing to a broader and more hollistic approach.

Laguna de Limpiopungo, Cotopaxi-Ecuador; 16 de junio de 2018
Paute River Laguna de Limpiopungo, Cotopaxi-Ecuador; 16 de junio de 2018 © Antonio Rosero/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Water security beyond the water source

Through years of research, TNC Ecuador concluded that water security required a systemic approach in order to mitigate risks from climate change. Watershed management as an integral decision-making process that links all stakeholders on several levels has appeared as a long-term solution for this. 

Ecuador's Water Security Coalition embodies the best of the Water Funds' successes, as it takes 23 nation-wide private, academic and civil stakeholders and puts them together to propose policy and corporate best practices to achieve water security on a national scale. 

 

Reviewing the success of the Water Funds model

Water security risks are very complex problems that require collective solutions. For example, waste water treatment and sanitation has a very high environmental cost. Leaving waste water untreated means significant polluting loads on rivers. Consequently, focus has shifted to the high environmental costs related to health, economy and social equity.

Páramo in the western zone of Parque Nacional Llanganates in Ecuador’s Tungurahua Province. The Nature Conservancy has partnered with FONAG and USAID to support their Fondo de Páramos Tungurahua y Lucha Contra la Pobreza (Tungurahua Páramo Fund and Fight Against Poverty) which aims to protect, preserve and recover the páramo ecosystem to improve the water quality and quantity of the Ambato and Pastaza river basins.
Páramo in the western zone of Parque Nacional Llanganates in Ecuador’s Tungurahua Páramo in the western zone of Parque Nacional Llanganates in Ecuador’s Tungurahua Province. The Nature Conservancy has partnered with FONAG and USAID to support their Fondo de Páramos Tungurahua y Lucha Contra la Pobreza (Tungurahua Páramo Fund and Fight Against Poverty) which aims to protect, preserve and recover the páramo ecosystem to improve the water quality and quantity of the Ambato and Pastaza river basins. © Erika Nortemann/TNC

Everything that leaves the cities and towns ends up on rivers. TNC understands now that joint efforts must be leveraged with the health sector, as leaving waste water without treatment has deep impacts on human health, especially on rural communities. Freshwater and terrestrial biodiversity loss linked to this challenge is very significant.

 

Watershed management, water quality and human health

The direct relationship between waste water treatment, human health and biodiversity conservation is now evident: the use of low quality water has specific impacts on diarrhea and first infancy chronic malnutrition.

Private sector and government institutions must work on this issue, but other sectors, such as conservation, must contribute to solve these challenges. TNC has taken a broader framework, that includes not only conservation, but also strategic alliances with other sectors that were distant from environmental work in the past.

What are Water Funds? Did you know how human activities can interfere with the water cycle from different areas, creating important water security challenges for cities? Water Funds have been created to address these challenges.
The urban sprawl of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, and surrounding farms.  Quito is located in a high altitude valley at 9,350 feet above sea level, 15 miles south of the equator in the Guayllabamba river basin. The city sits on the slopes of the active Pichincha volcano in the Andes mountains or north central Ecuador.
Quito, Ecuador The urban sprawl of Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, and surrounding farms. Quito is located in a high altitude valley at 9,350 feet above sea level, 15 miles south of the equator in the Guayllabamba river basin. The city sits on the slopes of the active Pichincha volcano in the Andes mountains or north central Ecuador. © Bridget Besaw

This new way to look at a problem is part of the innovative approach the TNC Ecuador team has proved successful in the past and is now working on to preserve one of the most megadiverse countries in the world. Leveraging Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) to improve integral watershed management is now one of the main priorities that has shown already promising results on waste water management for rural communities.