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Protecting Watersheds in Southern Ecuador

Background

Over 40% of forested areas within some of Loja's watersheds have been destroyed

Many cities in southern Ecuador are experiencing a growing lack of drinking water due to rapid population growth coupled with deforestation within the region’s watersheds. This deforestation is exacerbated by global climate change making populations even more vulnerable. Citizens of the City of Loja already suffer water rationings during some parts of the year, and smaller cities like Celica can supply only two hours of water per day during the dry months.

Loja’s water comes from six watershed basins adjoining Podocarpus National Park that were originally completely covered with rich and extremely biodiverse cloud forests. NCI’s study found that as much as forty percent of the area within some watersheds had been converted from forest to pasture and other uses, resulting in a severe lowering of water quality and quantity. Because of these findings, NCI helped to initiate two methods of conserving these vital areas including the establishment of a water tax to fund conservation efforts, and the purchase and subsequent management of high-priority areas. NCI’s proactive, long-term stance is crucial for the protection of these vulnerable water supplies.

What We're Doing

More than 4,500 acres of Loja's watersheds are now protected

In July 2007, the City of Loja passed an ordinance that created a special tax on the consumption of drinking water to pay for the conservation of the city’s watersheds. This fee varies from 3 to 7 cents per cubic meter for residential water users, to 10 cents for industrial users. The revenues are placed in a dedicated fund and provide approximately $250,000 a year for conservation, education, and management purposes. The ordinance also gives the municipality the authority to establish watersheds and other priority areas as reserves. It further creates a zoning process that will limit the use of areas based on their soil conditions, vegetative cover, and importance for watersheds. Other municipalities in southern Ecuador, such as Celica, have since followed suit creating water taxes for similar purposes.

Using international donations, NCI has also purchased high-priority areas within the watersheds of a number of municipalities in the region for conservation and restoration purposes. To empower the local communities in the management of these areas, we have signed loan-for-use agreements with several municipalities through which NCI turned over the management responsibilities to the city for a set period of time.

For instance, a loan-for-use agreement was signed in July 2008 between NCI and the Municipality of Loja through which NCI turned over the management of two properties located in the El Carmen watershed, the principal water supply source for the city. The agreement has a duration of ten years, with the purpose of enabling the Municipality as “Borrower” to develop a number of activities including conservation and recovery of natural vegetation cover, reforestation with forest species native to the site, protection methods such as fencing, scientific research, monitoring and signage, environmental education, and control of forest fires. The management of these areas will be accomplished with money raised through Loja’s water tax. In addition to protecting Loja’s water supply, protecting these areas conserves the great diversity and endemism of the humid cloud forest. Thanks to the joint work of the Municipality and NCI, more than 4,500 acres (60% of the area of interest) is under protection.

Replicating Successes on a Regional Basis

Generating income for conservation through a Regional Water Fund

We have also been actively working with all of the municipalities in the Province of Loja to establish a Regional Water Fund (Foragua – www.foragua.org) as a mechanism to finance and manage the natural areas that comprise the region’s watersheds. Funds collected from water fees in each of the municipalities are placed into a trust fund, and the assets are then invested in conservation projects within the jurisdiction of each municipality. Funded activities include land purchase, land protection and management, environmental service fees, fire control, fencing, reforestation, and natural regeneration. The fund can also collect contributions from businesses, private donors and international organizations. Municipalities benefiting from the fund are required to establish a specific ordinance that protects the city’s watersheds and establish a fee on water use that generates resources for the conservation of the areas.

 

 

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