Resilient water systems on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
THIS IS A TRANSLATION - THE STORY WAS SUBMITTED IN SPANISH
Please briefly describe your Water ChangeMaker journey
In Santa Cruz, the tourist and economic centre of the Galapagos and a World Heritage Site, water is a scarce resource and groundwater sources are generally used. Previously three groundwater sources were in use: "La Camiseta", "Pozo Profundo" and "Grieta Ingala". All water sources are captured by energy-intensive pumping stations with complex infrastructure. The energy consumed by the pumping systems is a huge expense for the water company, which makes the service more expensive and hinders financial sustainability. In addition, the energy used comes from fossil fuels that increase greenhouse gas emissions. The pumping technology used requires expensive maintenance and technical expertise, which makes this infrastructure very vulnerable to damage. This is a difficult problem to solve, in addition to the costs it represents for the population when using other water sources. System management was based on weak technical knowledge. The quality of the water distributed was unknown, but it was presumed that contaminated water sources were used and there were no alternatives to improve energy efficiency. When any part of the system – mainly the pumping stations – stopped working, it caused water shortages that affected between 4,000 and 15,000 inhabitants. There were no proposals for alternative water sources that would reduce the demand for energy and improve the resilience of the system to possible water source problems.
Please describe the change that your initiative created and how was it achieved
Water quality studies were carried out which identified that one of the three water sources used (Grieta Ingala) was contaminated and affected human health. Eliminating this water source reduced energy demand by 12 percent and improved water quality. A partnership with the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency (ABG), attached to the Ministry of Environment, was formed in order to access the water quality laboratory that allowed us to do this study. In addition, after an emergency that disabled the "Pozo Profundo" groundwater source, the need for alternative water sources and more efficient management of the system in the face of possible physical, climatic, or biological risks became apparent. Alternative sources were analysed, such as the "El Gallito" fountain. The system was interconnected to take advantage of the water from the "Pozo Profundo", the flow of which is now gravity-driven towards Puerto Ayora when there is low demand for water, and other possible interconnection actions in the systems have been studied to reduce energy consumption. To set up proposed interventions and understand the impacts they had on company and water system management, a partnership was formed with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). IDB led to the implementation of the AquaRating standard, which demonstrated the importance of understanding the risks, analysing the demand for energy, and establishing actions regarding water quality and alternative water sources.
How did your initiative help build resilience to climate change?
Considering that climate change can influence the amount of water available – especially in places like Santa Cruz that still depend on groundwater sources – and that there are big differences between wetlands and dry forests, studies and designs were developed to take advantage of the "El Gallito" water source as an alternative source, allowing water systems to reduce their dependence on aquifers by 10 percent and to respond to an emergency with the minimum amount of water required for the population. Gravity-driven flow systems were interconnected. This mitigation action decreased the demand for fossil fuel energy while improving the adaptive capacity of infrastructure that does not only depend on pumping by 20 percent.
What water-related decisions did your initiative influence or improve?
By dispensing water from the "Grieta Ingala" water source and by knowing the quality of the water coming from company sources, unnecessary use of the pumping system was eliminated, resulting in lower energy demand, and there was greater use of good quality water, which had a positive influence on the population’s health. The project has relied upon support from other institutions, such as the Municipality of Santa Cruz, which finances some of the actions implemented, collaboration with the ABG to create the water quality laboratory, and the integration of these initiatives in the IDB AquaRating assessment system. Pressure on a few water sources has been reduced. A greater response capacity is provided by systems interconnected with alternative water sources and those that are gravity-driven in different sections which reduces the operating costs of the water company. The institutional image and the users' perception of water management on the island are being improved by promoting strategic planning and communication (a website and social networks) with the support of the IDB.
What were some of the challenges faced and how were they overcome?
Gender stereotypes had a negative influence on the proposed changes, since the leadership of the company and of technical issues were delegated to women trained on these subjects. It was necessary to inspire greater confidence within the team and to demonstrate that the proposed changes were positive so that they would be accepted by the company’s male staff. The water company staff avoided changing the way the water system was operated because its potential negative impacts were unknown, and in the absence of up-to-date water quality studies, this factor was not taken into account in decision making. Establishing the water quality laboratory increased confidence in the proposed decisions. In addition, there is greater control over the use of pumping stations and gravity-driven transportation of water to avoid pumping when possible. The population was accustomed to using contaminated water and remained unconvinced that the water quality had been improved by eliminating contaminated water sources. The changes implemented are constantly reported and the water quality studies are presented to the authorities so that they continue to support this initiative.
In your view: Will the change that was created by your initiative continue?
Operational staff were convinced to use the gravity-dependent parts of the system by recommendations that show they lead to energy efficiencies. The contaminated water sources were completely disabled and cannot be used, so this change is permanent. The proposed change will continue as long as the proper functioning of the water catchments is ensured and it will have a greater impact when the “El Gallito” water source is incorporated. All pending actions have been incorporated into annual investment planning and are being included in the water company's strategic planning so that they remain part of implementation priorities.
What did you learn during the initiative or after? And is it possible that others could learn from you?
When a water system uses contaminated water sources, it is difficult to regain the population's trust. A long process of awareness raising and communication is required for this change to take place. The operation of the systems is based on empirical knowledge that must be updated and challenged in order to make improvements. Changes in system operation should be based on information about the systems and water sources, so that staff understand the proposed improvements. The use of the AquaRating standard helps clarify the integral actions that must be proposed by the water companies. It is not possible to deal with all these problems at once, but there are immediate changes that will have effective short-term outcomes. Women experience greater obstacles when running a water company, but having a technical group of women helps to overcome this difficulty.