Adapting to a Changing Environment

Sociedad de Historia Natural Niparajá A.C.

Entry Overview

General Info
Email :
Organization Address: 
Revolución 430 Col. Esterito
La Paz, 23060
Population Impacted: 
226,935 (Watershed users)

 1, 488.4 km2 

Major Occupations: 
In urban areas: Tourism, Government, Construction and Commerce. In rural areas: Livestock and Agriculture.
Local resources the community depends on, and for what purpose: 
Water:One of most arid cities in MX. Rely on underground water & rainfall is only source to recharge aquifers. Soil:Besides agriculture, soil important to avoid desertification & to aid water infiltration. Landscape:44% state economy depends on tourism.
Local threats to resources: 
Agriculture, cattle grazing, deforestation, illegal logging, urbanization, mining, erosion and any contribution to the process of desertification.
Climate Hazards: 
Heavy rain fall and hurricanes: with the current quality of our soils, hurricanes and heavy rains are factors for erosion. Extreme temperatures. Droughts
Level of exposure to these hazards: 
Frequency can vary but the drought recorded in the past 2 to 3 years was the most severe recorded in Mexico for the past 70 years, while Baja California Sur was the hardest hit stat in the nation. When droughts occur they are very intense and can last for several years. Hurricanes have also had a severe toll in the population; in 1976 hurricane Liza killed thousands of people, with no official number ever recorded, but estimates range anywhere from 5 to 10 thousand out of a population of 100,000. These hazards are increasing year after year and it is predicted that over the next decades droughts, extreme temperatures and hurricanes will increase in intensity.
Level of sensitivity: 
Hurricanes can create erosion, which in turn leads to soil loss, loss of vegetation cover and reduction in infiltration capacity. On the other hand droughts can lead to loss of vegetation cover, death of livestock and loss of crops. In both cases the loss of vegetation cover is a factor that contributes to climate change. Furthermore, these events reduce quality of life of the population and decrease the potential for tourism, sustainable cattle grazing and sustainable agriculture, therefore hurting the local economy.
Level of adaptive capacity: 
Overall, the community of La Paz lacks the interest, knowledge and social fabric to understand and face the full extent of the problem. But there are efforts to change this “social lack of vision and interest”, both from government, researchers and NGOs, and they can be used as tools to create the needed social fabric and collective consciousness. These efforts range from federal, state and municipal governmental programs and initiatives to a wide variety of NGO efforts such as: a) The creation of a public Observatory Council for Water and Sanitation, b) Strong and efficient anti mining efforts with the participation of all sectors of society, c) Federal programs to reduce soil degradation on the watershed recharge areas, d) Community based programs and research on efficient techniques to recover vegetative cover and soil, e) A long term campaign to educate and involve the community in actively understanding the full water cycle and the importance of soil and our local watershed, among others.
Describe Your Solution: 

Using the same inclusive community model and with the help of the data, designs, tools and lesson learned on the Didactic module for Soil Conservation and Aquifer Recharge at El Ciruelito, we intend to replicate the efforts to other areas and communities located over the La Paz aquifer recharge area. This will allow us to:   1. Develop works to conserve soil, reduce erosion, control runoffs, increase infiltration capacity and recharge the aquifer. 2. Promote citizen participation in environmental conservation efforts.  Our final aim is developing tangible and replicable models of watershed restoration and citizen action in watershed restoration.   Some of the expected direct impacts are:  ● The development of on site management activities lead by the community. ● The creation of new temporary jobs in rural communities based on conservation efforts. ● The creation of new demonstration areas both inhabitants of the local communities and those living in La Paz city. ● Preservation of soil structure, control runoff, reduce erosion, retained sediments, increase infiltration capacity and recharge the aquifer and of the local well. It also helps to maintain the carbon capturing capacity of soils and vegetation. ● The reduction of floods and therefore, a reduction in the amount of energy and  budget used  to desilt the sewage pipes and clean the streets after it rains in the region.  ● An improvement  in average water levels in local wells.   While replicating in new areas we intend to follow a similar but improved methodology to the one used at El Ciruelito, this includes a site assessment where we’ll learn about possible conservation and community impacts and threats; a site recognition, where we’ll obtain useful topographic, vegetation, meteorologic and permeability data; an in depth community participatory process, where we’ll define the grade and details for the partnership including investment, involvement, use of land, social development and other community inclusion related topics 

Ecological Costs: 
- Building fences to avoid the free transit for livestock into the conservation modules can affect the free transit of other species when not designed correctly, causing undesired habitat fragmentation
Ecological Benefit: 
Soil enrichment: increasing organic matter, microorganisms, increased vegetation cover and biodiversity. - Strengthening the resistance and resilience of ecosystems - Reduction avoiding loss of ecosystem services declining living conditions of the communi
Economic Indicators used to measure benefit: 

Amount of paid workdays received by community members. - Amount of income received from new alternatives sources   

Community/Social Cost: 
Legal and social issues over the ownership and use of land. - Ability to generate a deep understanding and appropriation of the project. - Support of all the community and willingness of 100% of inhabitants to respect conservation areas over livestock.
Community/Social Benefit: 
Increased awareness and support for conservation activities of soil. - Diversification of productive activities such small crops. - Increased organization of community groups
Community/Social Indicators used to measure benefit: 
Participation and involvement of community members in meetings and decisions - Ability to cope into agreements and allow the use of land for this purpose
Economic Cost: 

Reduction of land areas for livestock or forestal needs.

Economic Benefit: 

The creation of new temporary jobs in rural communities based on conservation efforts ( for example, construction of works) Opportunity of diversification of productive activities such small crops. 

Ecological Indicators used to measure benefit: 

Comparison of protected areas (fenced) with unprotected areas on: - Percentage of vegetation - Number of sediment retained by the works - Comparison of runoff coefficients - Estimating erosion - Soil analysis

What were/are the challenges your community faced in implementing this solution?: 

El Ciruelito module was installed on the middle of a long and devastating drought in the region. This drought was so severe that livestock owners had to purchase cultivated pasture and balanced food for their cows and other animals in most areas of the state.  This might appear to be normal, but in this region, specially in the small ranchos as El Ciruelito, the livestock economy is in such bad shape, that it is becomes impossible to invest in feeding the animals versus just leaving them to eat in the wild.  Many cows were lost in the hole state. In fact, most of the cows from remote ranches died.  During the drought, it was thought that one big challenge at El Ciruelito was going to be keeping the community will to maintain the livestock out of the module, specially when inside, there was a good amount of quality food for their animals, but it actually turned the opposite. Community members and livestock owners were proud to witness what was happening.  While outside the module fences there was no food left and cows were dying and inside there was plenty of food, community members decided that the module represented a perfect opportunity to find new solutions for the future.  No one never asked or tried to bring their livestock inside the fence. They were able to see through their eyes and now are willing to expand this opportunities further.  This type of solutions allow to understand the cycle of soil recovery and at the same time, allow the participation, involvement, and understanding of land users. The main risk in these type of projects are the social ones, and the only solution is inclusion. 

Describe the community-based process used to develop the solution including tools and processes used: 

I. El Ciruelito: Didactic module for Soil Conservation and Aquifer Recharge  El Ciruelito is a rural community located in the heart of Sierra el Novillo, located 37 kilometer south east of La Paz in one of the main recharging areas for the La Paz aquifer.  As in most rural communities in the Baja California Sur Sierras, local economy at El Ciruelito is based in livestock and the commercialization of livestock byproducts, but also in the exportation of labor to La Paz city.  The introduction of livestock to this arid region took place in the 1700’s with the arrival of new colonizers from Europe and the interior of México. Since then, livestock became a deep component of the local “ranchero” culture and economy, though, it has deeply contributed to the degradation and erosion of soil.   In 2011, teachers and students at a technical high school located in La Paz city (CBTIS 230) took the initiative to build a didactic module for Soil Conservation and Aquifer Recharge.  The didactic module for soil conservation and aquifer recharge at El Ciruelito, is built over a total surface of 8.4 hectares, includes several different techniques of soil conservation works, all designed to preserve the soil and vegetative cover, reduce erosion, control runoff, and therefore, increase the infiltration capacity that finally benefits the aquifer recharge.  With an inclusive approach, this project is actively promoting the involvement, participation and education of students (both from La Paz and El Ciruelito), government, NGO’s, community members and the press.  All have been able to participate from their own perspective and approach, both on the construction of the module, but also on learning from it.      Today we can say that this module is being useful to help increase social consciousness, educate and involve decision makers and generate new and replicable techniques and local knowledge. In fact, decision makers are gaining understanding and interest in promoting conservation and soil recuperation schemes’ on the upper part of the basin, and thanks to this first experience, it is possible now to provide them with measured results and detailed information on efficiency, design, costs and knowledge.   I.II Inclusion:  Local community is the one more actively involved and benefited, but in the long term, all the citizens of La Paz benefit from initiatives aimed at fostering an efficient watershed management in La Paz.  This project started as an initiative of two visionary citizens.  Engineer Socorro Paulin, a teacher of CBTIS 230 which is a public technical high-school in La Paz city, and Engineer Vicente Aguilar Osuna, a former consultant for the National Water Commission - CONAGUA. These key leaders have implemented a strategy that involves diverse stakeholders.  Their model includes several layers of community involvement, participation and inclusion. The first one is successfully adding the in-site implementation and research of this module as part of the curricula of the technical high-school. This has allowed the participation of more than 20 students over the last year, and the possibility of involving new students every year. One great example of the impact this is generating on the young kids, was the winning of the first place of the “National Water Youth Price of 2012” through this project. As recognition to this price, the embassy of Switzerland in Mexico invited and sponsored 3 of these young kids to participate on the World Water Week in Stockholm to present the project.  The second layer of inclusion regards the local rural community’s understanding, involvement and investment.  The community signed an agreement allowing the project to use 8.47 acres of their land. Even if this is a small portion of land, it is significant because of the nature of the community, were cattle is one of the main economic activities and they agreed to keep it out of this area.  In return, the community is constantly receiving data and information on the progress and research.  Some of the results are being received with joy in the community. The water level of the well that is being tested and measured has increased over the last year.  Besides the new employment opportunities for construction and maintenance for the local community, this project has also involved the local primary school.  All the kids that live and study in this community have the duty to participate in the reforestation and maintenance of the area. Furthermore, the families received a course on organic agriculture and are now able to produce their own food, thus increasing the quality of the vegetables eaten on the village and allowing them to save money.  The third and fourth layer of inclusion involves the participation and involvement of NGOs (Such as Niparajá A.C.), governmental agencies and the media. All of them have been supporting the project through different means such as funding, instrumentation and media coverage.  I.III  Partners   ● Community of El Ciruelito: Land ownership, interest and involvement in the project and research, employment opportunities, students’ and family participation.  ● CBTIS 230: Added the project to their academic curricula, provides technical assistance and labor with the aid of teachers and students.  ● Sociedad de Historia Natural Niparajá A.C:  Provides funding and technical assistance. Serves as a link with authorities, other NGO’s, partners and press. Aids with communication and diffusion. ● Ecology Project International: Has developed a curricula on environmental education inspired on this module. This curricula is being used to educate a large amount of junior high and high school students of La Paz on water cycle and watershed subjects. ● La Paz Municipality: Provides on-site logistic such as allowing the use of trucks and financing fuel when needed. 

Climate hazard of concern: 
How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the ecosystem affected?: 

The proposed solution will help to:  Preserve soil structure, control runoff, reduce erosion, retain sediments, increase infiltration capacity and recharge the aquifer. It also helps to maintain the carbon capturing capacity of soils and vegetation.   These actions enhance the soil capacity to retain water and recharge the aquifer. Soil quality and a healthy vegetation cover are needed to ensure that water runoff absorbs into the aquifer and prevent erosion. Less erosion means less floods in the lower basin and decreased sediment deposit along the watershed.   Overall, a healthy soil coverture has a direct relationship with the recharge capacity of the aquifer. This is especially important in an arid environment with scarce rainfall. But most important, direct citizen action in this regard is instrumental to achieve long term solutions. 

How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the ecosystem affected?: 

In arid landscapes without superficial sources of water, rainfall and the capacity of the aquifer to store water becomes a key element for human survival. On site management activities aimed at restoring soil and increasing the amount of water captured underground reduce the sensitivity towards climate change. These actions mitigate the effects of extreme changes in the rainfall patterns (floods and droughts). 

How has your solution increased the capacity of the ecosystem to adapt to potential climate changes?: 

By improving the soil quality, vegetal cover becomes more resilient, sustaining a more diverse plants and animals community.

How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the communities affected?: 

By increasing the water absorbed during the short rainy season and reducing the erosion caused by rainfall, communities in desert landscapes can better adapt to the impacts of climate change.  These increases the availability of underground water, creates enabling conditions to a more diverse and healthy ecosystem that supports more economic activities (agriculture, forestry and grazing).  Increasing the ability for water absorption also decreases  the risks of floods down the hill.

How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the communities affected?: 

Rural communities are especially dependent upon a healthy environment. Drought and soil erosion poses complex challenges to everybody, but communities that directly depend on primary activities (cattle, agriculture,forestry) are more sensitive to droughts and floods.   In the surrounding area of this project, as in other places of Baja California Sur, during drought episodes, cattle are very sensitive to lack of vegetation available for grazing. This causes high rates of mortality and has a direct impact on rural communities which sometimes rely on cattle as an important source of protein and income.    Projects like these improve vegetation cover, diversify availability of food for cattle (mainly goats and cows) and create evidence of the positive impacts of a healthy environment. This is inspiring local stakeholders to restore bigger parcels and implement cattle management actions.   In the lower basin, residents from La Paz benefit of a healthy aquifer that can better react to extraction and drought.

How has your solution increased the capacity of local communities to adapt to potential climate changes?: 

Tangible models of onsite restoration offer unique opportunities for local communities to adapt to climate change. First, they actively participate on actions with tangible results over soil quality, vegetation cover and underground water. Second, they create better conditions to develop their economic activities (agriculture, forestry, grazing). Finally, they complement their incomes and improve their livelihoods.

Can this solution be replicated elsewhere?: 

The money obtained with this prize will be used specifically to help us start replicating, for the first time, the current model used at El Ciruelito Didactic module for Soil Conservation and Aquifer Recharge.  We believe that A) the schemes and agreements that allows the use of land for conservation and B) the social and institutional inclusion at all levels, will be the key factors in order to succeed and grow the potential for exponential replication.   Some of the components that make this an innovative solution are:  ● The local community inclusion components of the model ● All the works and design are based on 4 years of local research, therefore, the impact on soil recovery and aquifer recharge is greater than other similar efforts taking place in the area without research and training. ● Research is ongoing and new sites provide new windows of opportunity for technique's improvement and efficiency. ● Direct and in-depth long term involvement of CBTIS 230 students into the design, research, construction, social participation and maintenance of the area is a key factor.  This allows to incubate new visionary young people, providing them with the understanding, will and technical skills to keep working and finding new solutions against desertification.  With the building of new modules, it is possible to open this opportunity to other schools. ● Serves as a tool to further improve our public awareness campaign “Our water does not come from the tap, it comes from the Sierras" and as a educational ground and opportunity of involvement for all layers of society, this including decision makers. 

Contest Partners

the nature conservancy logo

Contest Sponsors