BILLIE JEAN ISBELL: We're looking at Lake Winoyo, the water source of the valley below where the community of Vicos is located.
Santiago Reyes, one of the Vicosinos who participated in the conference, is the leader of the water management program that began in 1999 called Agua Para Siempre, Water Forever. He's responsible for training and leading other community members to monitor and reduce pollution from 11 mining sites near the lakes of Quebrada Honda.
Only three small mines remain active because they have been grandfathered into the law that prohibits mining in the buffer zone of the national park. The remaining mines must meet standards set by the elected council of Vicos to continue operations.
And one of the conditions that they participate in monitoring and improvement of the water source from the glacial field above Vicos. At Lake Garrosa, which is located above Winoyo, Santiago explains how their various mitigation and monitoring efforts have improved the quality of water.
Lake Garrosa is polluted with lead, arsenic, silver, and other metals from centuries of mining. However, their efforts are reducing the pollutants to a level safe for human and animal consumption as their water travels to the Vicos below.
The techniques they have generated are being spread to communities in the region. Here, Lucio, a trainee from the village, takes a water sample for a pH measurement.
They look at the comparison chart as Santiago explains that the acidity level, 4.5, is still too high for human or animal consumption, which is six to eight. And the series of testing and treatment stations located along the course of the water lowers the acidity.
They conduct a series of tests and one of them is to measure conductivity in the water, which indicates the electrical charge carried by the water due to metal particles.
The level is extremely high and Santiago records the measurement. He explains that the pH conductivity and other levels at Winoyo, the lake below Garrosa, indicate that the water is safe for animal and human consumption.
Through communal labor, each household provides one person to work on the water system. Vicosinos have built the retaining walls, and dug the pool to hold the sediment that contains arsenic and lead as well as other pollutants.
One mitigation technique they have applied is to place bags of lime along the filtration canals to neutralize the acidic mineral-filled water. For longer term improvement of water quality, Vicosinos have increased the plantings of native grasses, such as ichu, that are resistant to the minerals.
Vicosinos spent one year discussing their concept and the importance of water and arrived at this consensus. And I quote them, "When we began this project, we knew that our water was sick and decided that we must cure it. We must protect our water for the future generations. It is our life."
This project is a partnership between Vicos and The Mountain Institute and Urpichallay, two non-governmental organizations that work in fragile mountain environments.
We have chosen to work with them in Vicos because of their long-term commitment to participatory development, their long-term successful history in the region, and the mutual respect Vicosinos and the staff of both organizations have for each other.
The director of the Mountain Institute's Andean Program is Jorge Recharte, who received his PhD from Cornell's Department of Anthropology in 1989.
A national and international competition was held for development projects. And The Water Forever Project was awarded funding and has become a model for the surrounding region.
The cost of the water quality testing is low, $0.97 for each sampling. Diverse sectors are involved, including peasants, miners, universities, national and international agencies.
New technologies have been developed through the interaction between these local and external systems of knowledge. TMI and Urpichallay published a manual so that local communities can replicate the process.
Each locality learning from their neighbors' experiences generates solution to fit their local needs. Vicosinos participate in the diffusion of their experience through workshops and discussions.
The Water Forever Project directly benefits the 970 Vicosino families and indirectly benefits 500,000 people in the valleys below, who depend on the water from the Quebrada Honda for agriculture, herding, and human consumption.
Participants say, without the Quebrada Honda, we are nothing. As the director of Urpichallay noted, Vicosinos do not participate in a Cartesian world where humans dominate nature, but rather live with and negotiate with a series of animate beings that both protect and punish them.
Prayer and offerings to the mountains and to Earth Mother are the means of communication. It is therefore understandable that the Quebrada Honda high-altitude zone is considered the sacred domain of the mountain deities and Earth Mother.
It is also the zone where Vicosinos care for a wide variety of plants. It is their natural seed bank. Before entering the Quebrada Honda, you must make a ritual offering to Earth Mother, Pachamama.
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What are the successes and failures of Cornell's development efforts in the Andean community of Vicos 50 years ago? How are the people of Vicos faring today, and can history teach us anything?
This video 6 of 7 in the From Serfs to Political Actors series.