2013 Napier AWARDEE Rachel conrad

AN UPDATE FROM RACHEL

This is an absolutely fabulous experience. I knew that I would love it when I applied for the Napier scholarship, but I didn’t know how multifaceted it would turn out to be, and how much I would feel like every day is a new (welcome) surprise and a new lesson. I have been spending more time in Quito than I expected, because there is a lot of data to gather from ministries and institutes here, and a lot of data to analyze; both the data from the ministries, and the data that I have gathered in the watershed. In Quito, the perfect living situation presented itself to me a week before I arrived in Ecuador: my best friend, Ana, who is Ecuadorian and lives in Quito, has a close friend from high school named Estefania. Estefania called me a week before my flight to Ecuador, and she said that she had gotten an internship at the Inter-American Comission on Human Rights in Washington D.C., and she was wondering if she could live with my family for the duration of her internship. I asked my family and they were delighted to have her, and she then suggested that I live at her house in Quito! I of course accepted the offer, and I am so glad that I did! Estefania´s family is wonderful, and I feel very comfortable in their home. After a long day of work, coming home to her family is just what I want. She has a brother who is 20 years old, and I spend a lot of time with him, debating ethics and politics;) Her mom is hilarious, and a very strong woman.


While in Quito, I spend my days at Accion Ecologicas offices with my work partner David Reyes, reading territorial zoning plans of the region, analyzing precipitation, relative humidity, stream flow, and other hydrological and meteorological data of the watershed, working on GIS maps of different characteristics of the region, and meeting with geographers, lawyers, an aquatic biologist, and others who I have found in Quito and who I have asked to advise us on different aspects of the project.

The main goals of the project are to:
Quantify the availability of water in the watershed, map the spatial distribution of crops in the watershed, quantify the use of irrigation and the need for irrigation in the watershed, and quantify the overall demand for water for each type of crop that exists in the watershed, at varying elevations and with varying microclimatic conditions. We also want to quantify the economic value of the crops to the locals, and to the country. Ecuador has a Right to Food Sovereignty in their Constitution, and we want to show that taking water access away from what is called the ¨breadbasket¨ of Ecuador is a huge threat to Food Sovereignty for both the locals and for the rest of the country that consumes the food the locals sell. Finally, I met an aquatic biologist here, who has offered to do a study of the biodiversity in the Dulcepamba River right above where the dam will block the river. (I will of course help her). She will do a general study of biodiversity, and a fish survey. Her study will reveal the amazing biodiversity in this pristine river, and it will also show that there is a large fish population. We will then do a survey of the 3 towns that draw fish from the river right near the dam, to quantify how many people depend on fish as a primary source of protein in their diets. (Almost everyone there depends on fish, but we want to quantify it). The hydroelectric company will block the river with a big cement wall (the dam). Below this wall, the river will be dry for about 3km,before the water that the company diverts returns to the river. The company promises that aquatic life will be fine, because they have left an ¨environmental flow¨ (a quantity of water that they will allow to flow past the wall into the mostly dry 3km stretch). The environmental flow, however, will equal a few centimeters on the stream bed, and there is no fish I know that can survive a few centimeters of water. Katie, the aquatic biologist, will contribute to the final report, explaining the impact on aquatic life that this dam will cause, and the impact on local populations that will be caused by a lack of aquatic life.

I spent last week in the watershed with David, a friend of Davids from Quito named Eduardo, and 4 people from the community of San Pablo de Amali, measuring the volumetric flow rate of the rivers in the watershed. We did this to be able to estimate the total volume of surface water available in the watershed. We measured the flow at 10 different points in the watershed. The process of measuring flow is very long. It took us half of a day to do each measurement, because in order for it to be precise, you have to take 50 measurements of velocity, and measure the distance in between each velocity measurement, and the depth of each location where velocity is measured. Although it was hard work (we stared at 7am and finished more or less at 6pm), it was MARVELOUS! The watershed is so beautiful, and standing in beautiful rivers and tributaries all day is nothing to complain about!! I also really like the 4 community members we worked with. Manuel, the leader of the community San Pablo de Amali, is such an inspiring man. He raised himself since the age of 12 due to family problems, and lived a very difficult life, going from city to city working physically demanding jobs. Finally, he returned to the countryside where he was born (San Pablo de Amali), with enough money to buy property, and he began a life of agriculture. He married and had 2 children. Despite the obstacles in his life, he was able to make enough money to send them both to college. Now he is the president of San Pablo de Amali, and has been organizing with his community to resist this hydroelectric project for the past 9 years. He understands very well the grave consecuences of 72 communities losing access to water, and he (peacefully) fights every day to proect the land, the rivers, and the people of the watershed. He is coming today to Quito to meet with several human rights groups, because he currently is going through court proceedings. He has been charged with terrorism and sabotage (completely false), and has absolutely no money to pay a lawyer to represent him. I will be accompanying him to a meeting at the Human Rights Office of the Catholic University in Quito this afternoon, and let’s hope that they offer to help!


I am going back to the watershed in 1 week, to meet with an irrigation association that exists in the eastern part of the watershed, and with several producers’ cooperatives. I will explain more extensively the purpose of this project and the benefits it will hopefully provide for these people. I am going to ask for their collaboration in identifying where crops are located, what kind of crops people have, how many hectares they have, etc. I will also share with them the data that we gathered of river flows, so that they can understand better how much water there is available.

 


I have purchased a Chevy Trooper from 1986, to carry us around the watershed. It works very well, and I am becoming fond of the car:) I have named it ¨Cuchuchu¨after a very cute animal that is common in the watershed.


Wow, I have written you all a book! I was just so excited to share! I have attached some photos from the trip to the watershed where we measured river flows. They will give you a feel of how beautiful the place is, and of how we measured! I am really hoping that after this year, I can come to California to share with you in person my experiences.