Unit: Watersheds, Water Security and Soils

Importance of water and soils worldwide

Water is the basis of life, the main component of living beings and there is a continuous water-soil-plant-atmosphere system, based on the water cycle. Furthermore, it is a scarce resource. The increase in water scarcity globally and strongly affects ecosystems, human health, and food security. In the last 100 years, the world's population has tripled, and global water use increased six times. Continued at this rate would increase water withdrawals for industries and municipalities around the world, and climate change would create uncertainties in the supply and distribution of water in agriculture[1], exacerbating water scarcity conditions, with greater incidence in the tropics, where most of the developing countries are located.

Lack of access to water impacts human health. For example, 80% of diseases in developing countries are attributed to unsafe water consumption and water-borne diseases.

It is important to remember that two-thirds of all fresh water is stored in the soil on the Earth's surface, this being the largest reservoir of water on Earth[2]. Likewise, 25% of the world's biodiversity is underground and more than 95% of humanity's current food supply is produced from the ground. However, around 40% of the land used for agriculture worldwide is degraded or severely degraded, which means that we will produce 30% less food in the next 20-50 years[3].

Currently, soil is lost at a rate between 10 and 40 times faster than it can be replenished naturally, and % of the topsoil has already been lost globally. Additionally, one third of the world's major groundwater basins are classified as "endangered”[4]. Therefore, physical water shortages, institutional failures, lack of adequate infrastructure, and increased demand threaten water security[5].

Finally, it should be mentioned that the basin, as a territorial management unit, allows for the systematic integration of planning and action for the sustainable management of water and soil resources, the basis of food production and environmental sustainability.

[1]IRP. 2019. Global Resources Outlook 2019: Natural Resources for the Future We Want. Oberle, B., Bringezu, S., Hatfield-Dodds, S., Hellweg, S., Schandl, H., Clement, J., and Cabernard, L., Che, N., Chen, D., Droz-Georget, H., Ekins, P., Fischer-Kowalski, M., Flörke, M., Frank, S., Froemelt , A., Geschke, A., Haupt , M., Havlik, P., Hüfner, R., Lenzen, M., Lieber, M., Liu, B., Lu, Y., Lutter, S., Mehr , J., Miatto, A., Newth, D., Oberschelp , C., Obersteiner, M., Pfister, S., Piccoli, E., Schaldach, R., Schüngel, J., Sonderegger, T., Sudheshwar, A., Tanikawa, H., van der Voet, E., Walker, C., West, J., Wang, Z. y Zhu, B. A Report of the International Resource Panel. United Nations Environment Programme. Nairobi, Kenya.

[2] International Soil Reference and Information Centre Soils and Water | ISRIC

[3] What If the World’s Soil Runs Out? | TIME.com

[4] Richer et al., 2015: Richey, A.S., B.F. Thomas, M.H. Lo, J.S. Famiglietti, S. Swenson y M. Rodell. 2015. Uncertainty in global groundwater storage estimates in a Total Groundwater Stress framework. Water Resour. Res., 51, 5198–5216, doi:10.1002/2015WR017351

[5] Water scarcity clock/World data Lab: Water Scarcity Clock (worldwater.io

Challenges we face

Proper management of soil and water resources is essential to maintain the functions and services of terrestrial ecosystems. Consequently, a socio-ecological approach is necessary to identify and understand natural systems, territorial dynamics, social systems, and the impact of climatic anomalies on the livelihoods of communities and the conservation of ecosystem services.

Likewise, the use of new tools is required to understand the “chaotic” patterns of rainfall and to better understand the hydrological behavior in the basins under historical and projected climatic conditions. That is why sustainable soil and water management needs the high-level participation of stakeholders, ranging from governments to small farmers, including the private sector.

At CATIE we work on watersheds, water security and soils from a comprehensive and systemic approach, considering biophysical, social, economic, and environmental aspects. For this we develop and implement research, human capital formation, training, projects, actions and joint work with communities, producers, farmers, institutions, organizations, local and national governments, and decision makers. Our goal is to contribute to the generation of successful actions to maintain and improve the productive capacity of the soil, as well as achieve water security, ensure water in quality, availability and quantity for production processes, human consumption and the environment, and provide in this way adapted and resilient solutions to climate change.

Thus, at CATIE we have and offer experience and capacity in proposing, analyzing, implementing, applying, adapting, and sharing methodologies, principles, criteria, approaches, strategies, tools, and mechanisms for the sustainable management of soil and water. To achieve this we have strengths, such as regional mandate and action, international recognition from the decision-making level to producers and families, technical capacity forged over more than 40 years, experience to work with multiple actors and real integration of research, education, and action for development around water and soil resources. In addition, we have the capacity for innovation and evolution in our tools and approaches, for example, through data science, urban basins, and smart cities, under the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Some of the results that we can mention in these areas are:

  • International positioning of the water-soil issue through a comprehensive approach, based on the basin as a planning and management unit, and multiple intervention units, from the political, legal, institutional level to farms or production units such as sites to achieve the desired changes in these natural resources (more details can be found at: https://www.revistas.una.ac.cr/index.php/ambientales/article/view/11379).
  • Development of methodologies and practices for the study, analysis, and implementation of the sustainable management of water and soil resources. We are evolving towards “smart watersheds” (additional information at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMO8f9FUUGc).
  • More than 400 studies and research on soil and water resources, including aspects of protection, conservation, management, and sustainable use, with a social, economic, biophysical, and environmental vision.
  • Development of the co-management approach (joint management with multiple actors) of the natural resources of the basin, such as water and soil, as an option to achieve significant changes with respect to conventional methods, such as technical assistance.
  • Most robust methodology in Latin America and the Caribbean for the elaboration of Management Plans and Integral Management of Hydrographic Basins with an experience of more than 40 years.

The researchers from our Watershed, Water Security and Soil Unit are experts who combine different approaches that contribute to our work. Among them are: Dra. Laura Benegas, coordinator of the Unit, who holds a Ph.D. in Soil Sciences from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and a Master of Science in Integrated Watershed Management from CATIE, which addresses the research for development basic on water dynamics in the soil and the management of basins and water resources; Dr. Jorge Faustino, who holds a PhD in Agricultural Sciences from the University of California (USA) and a Master of Science in Agricultural Engineering, with an emphasis in Land and Water Resources from the National Agrarian University “La Molina ”(Peru), which deals with watershed planning and resource management; MSc. Ney Ríos, who holds a master's degree in Science in Integrated Watershed Management from CATIE, specializing in geography information systems, who develops hydrological modeling, monitoring of water resources in livestock landscapes; MSc. William Watler holds a Master of Science in Integrated Watershed Management from CATIE and a specialty in programming, which investigates land use planning, territorial zoning from a data science and machine learning perspective; Dr. Bommat Ramakrishna, who holds a Ph.D. and MA in Water Resources, Rural Development, and Rural Sociology from the University of Tennessee (USA) and advises the Unit on soil and water conservation issues; Dr. Francisco Jiménez, who has a doctorate in Agronomy / Bioclimatology from the Institut National Agronomique Paris-Grignon (AgroParisTech) of France, as well as a master's degree in Agricultural Sciences from CATIE / UCR and advises the Unit on management and management issues of basins; Mag. Ovidio Ibáñez, geologist, holds a postgraduate degree in Underground Hydrology from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, advanced studies (DEA) in Sustainable Management of Water Resources from the University of Zaragoza and a master's degree in Analysis of the Economic Environment of the Open University of Catalonia, and advises the Unit on issues of hydrogeology, Comprehensive management of water resources, management of basin projects and spatial planning; MSc. Jeanette Cárdenas, who holds a doctorate in Tropical Agriculture on Climate Change at CATIE-PURDUEU and a Master of Science in Ecological Agriculture from CATIE, specializing in the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, Agenda 2015-2030 in the United Nations, and advises the Unit in the implementation of the sustainable development objectives in the management and management of hydrographic basins.

More information at: cuencas@catie.ac.cr

The key importance of co-management and its enabling conditions: WaterClima-LAC Project, Coastal Zone Management

To solve a complex problem and achieve a substantive change, it is necessary to mobilize a diversity of social forces that think and act in the same direction, where each actor fulfills his role according to his interest and capacity so that, as a synergy, the result is more than the sum of the parts. This applies with all its weight to coastal area management.

In Bajo Lempa, one of the pilot sites of the WaterClima-LAC Project, there was already a set of platforms, such as well-rooted associations of municipalities, where the project could sit down to begin its actions.

The application of tools such as, for example, the identification of ecosystem services in coastal basins under a participatory and strategic approach at different levels (community, institutional, academic), the prioritization of intervention areas for good practices in coastal basins (Priorización_de_áreas_para_implementar_buenas.pdf (catie.ac.cr) and the inclusion of the results generated by these tools in other planning mechanisms already defined at the country level (the Sustainable Local Development Plan-PDLS), made it possible to formulate said planning instrument and thus promote the existing local leadership that managed to start up the aforementioned PDLS for the area, with the first financing funds from compensation for environmental impact.

CATIE and our partners, through the WaterClima-LAC project, Management of Coastal Zones, have contributed and continue to contribute to the sustainable development of this area that is part of the Trifinio region, located on the Lempa river basin, with various projects, where our trajectory and technical leadership in these matters is recognized.

A systematization of the experience of the WaterClima-LAC Project, Coastal Area Management, is found in: (3) (PDF) Una mirada temporal y espacial de territorios costeros de América Latina y El Caribe: elementos de anclaje para el devenir futuro (researchgate.net); https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=13&v=cpeArMQ8CIM&feature=emb_logo

Fishermen in mangroves of Bajo Lempa, El Salvador, participants in the implementation of the WaterClima-LAC Project, Coastal Zone Management.
Mayors of the Trifinio area, 2017, participants in the implementation of the WaterClima-LAC Project, Coastal Area Management.
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