Our visit to the Ayuquila River watershed was a guided tour through the various stakeholders involved in, what is now, the restoration of this valuable resource. Luis Martinez hosted our group providing onsite explanation, history and a glimpse into the future as we were also introduced to local government officials and environmental educators.
The Ayuquila River is 350 kilometers with a watershed expanding 9800 square kilometers. The river is most negatively affected by sugar mills and gravel mining; however there are also significant problems with overuse of the river for irrigation purposes. The watershed is very important to many people and for the last 15-20 years has been monitored and researched for water quality and biodiversity. Additionally, work is being done to understand the impact of the river on adjacent communities and to help educate community members on all the values of this resource.
Presently the focus is to rebuild the natural flow of the river and educate citizens about the importance of ecological flow, but this brings up the issue of who owns the water. While there are still many hurdles to overcome, there has been significant improvements, most notably the solid waste management and a recycling program that has spread to 10 surrounding municipalities—each participating in various degrees.
Perhaps the most significant occurrence on the river was a molasses spill in 1998. This spill obviously had detrimental effects on the river, but it also shined a light on important social issues, like the uneven distribution of power and more positively, how community members rallied together to strengthen the quality of their river and the management of this resource.
The presentation in Autlan proved that this community spirit is still a fundamental operating principle. It was also very motivating for Kathryn and me. We both feel this is the perfect case study to present to her environmental science class. From the day to day tasks of getting kids excited about recycling and collecting trash to the local government’s coordination and collaboration to the university participation and research, I found the whole project impressive and successful on so many levels. I am really excited to bring this project into Kathryn’s class—I think there are many great lessons for her students (and ourselves!) to take from it.