CÉRRON GRANDE – EL SALVADOR’S RESERVOIR OF QUESTIONABLE FAME

A WETLAND OF INTERNATIONAL IMPORTANCE AND THE MOST CONTAMINATED BODY OF FRESH WATER IN CENTRAL AMERICA

By Maeggi Hieber , El-Salvador

Cérron Grande is El Salvador’s largest body of fresh water and the biggest of its Ramsar Sites, wetlands of international importance. At the same time, the reservoir is known to be one of the most contaminated bodies of fresh water in Central America. An actual investigation demonstrated its high levels of contamination and the manifold sources of pollution. Heavy metals, banned insecticides, cyanides, fecal bacteria, and toxic algae affect the health of humans and animals. A monthly load of more than 8.5 millions pounds of feces cause frequent algal blooms and the eutrophication of the reservoir. Actions have to be taken on all levels to prevent further contamination and treat the existing pollution. Local organizations such as Pro-Vida are working in the country side with the local population implementing actions on regional as well as governmental level to improve quality of life.

Cérron Grande is El Salvador’s largest body of fresh water and the biggest of its three Ramsar Sites, wetlands of international importance [1]. Cérron Grande, locally known as Suchitlán Lake, is a reservoir constructed in 1973 to serve the hydroelectric power plant. This outstanding man-made wetland of 607 square kilometers forms an important habitat for different endangered and endemic species and an unique staging and breeding area for migratory and resident water birds [2].  The reservoir Cérron Grande forms part of the tri-national watershed of the river Lempa, originating in Guatemala, passing through Honduras, continuing its course for another 360 km in El Salvador until it reaches the Pacific Ocean. Although only 49% of El Salvador’s territory is covered by the Lempa river basin, 77% of the Salvadoran population lives in cities, towns, and villages that are located in its basin, including the capital city of San Salvador. Besides, the reservoir plays a major role in purification of the water and control of flooding.

In spite of its environmental and economic importance, the Cérron Grande today is one of the most contaminated bodies of fresh water in Central America. An actual investigation realized by the Salvadoran Association of Human Aid Pro-Vida and financed by Oxfam America demonstrated its high levels of contamination and the manifold sources of pollution. Bacteria, heavy metals, pesticides as well as other chemical parameters in the Cérron Grande exceeded the respective water quality standards. [3]

Total coliforms, a bacterial group indicating fecal contamination, showed concentration of more than 10’000 colonies in 100 ml thereby not only exceeding by far the desired range for surface waters but also the maximum concentration allowed for waste water being discharged in receiving water. Another biological group unwanted in surface waters are some blue-green algae, a group of cyanobacteria famous for their ability to produce natural toxins dangerous to humans and animals. The mass-reproduction of cyanobacteria called algal blooms is visible by a bright green discoloration of the water and can cause negative impacts to other organisms via production of the harmful toxins. Although algae and cyanobacteria are natural components, their mass-reproduction is the result of increased nutrient loading from human activities

Fig. 1: Algal bloom in the reservoir Cérron Grande, El Salvador (Photo: M. Hieber)
Fig. 1: Algal bloom in the reservoir Cérron Grande, El Salvador (Photo: M. Hieber)

Sources of increased nutrient load usually are untreated waste waters discharging the nutrient rich feces and urine into surface waters. It is estimated that the reservoir Cérron Grande receives a monthly load of more than 8.5 millions pounds (4 million kilograms) of feces deriving from 1.5 million households of the capital San Salvador. Increased nutrient load not only benefits the growth of algae and cyanobacteria but also causes eutrophication of standing water bodies. In its 37 years of existence, the reservoir changed to a hypereutrophic lake promoting by its high nutrient concentrations excessive plant growth and decay, thereby causing anoxia (lack of oxygen in the water) and severe reductions in water quality, fish, and other animal populations.

The rivers Suquiapa, Sucio and Acelhuate, forming 30 % of the flow entering the reservoir, are draining the untreated sewage and wastewater effluent from at least 154 municipal and industrial sources from the metropolitan area of San Salvador. Elevated concentrations of heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury, copper and aluminium were found in the water as well as in different water plants and fishes. Heavy metals are accumulating in the organisms and, therefore, concentrating along the food chain. The last link in the food chain, such as humans, receives the highest concentration of the toxic substances. [4]

Dieldrin and Cyanide are two other toxic substances able to accumulate along the food chain which were found in the water of the Cérron Grande. The insecticide Dieldrin is one of the “PAN Dirty Dozen Pesticides”, extremely hazardous pesticides that cause many deaths and widespread environmental damage every year. Although most have been banned or restricted in the industrialized countries, yet the Dirty Dozen still is heavily promoted and widely used in many developing nations. [5] In El Salvador, registration, importation, exportation, fabrication, commercialization and distribution of Dieldrin was officially prohibited in 2000 – but not its use which still is very common. [6]

Cyanide is mainly used for the mining of gold and silver. Cyanide compounds that can release the cyanide ion CN_ are highly toxic and have been used as poison many times throughout history, for example as Zyklon B by the Nazi regime in Germany for mass murder in some gas chambers during the Holocaust. El Salvador is a country rich of gold and silver. Approximately 12 million ounces of gold and 78 million ounces of silver are available for exploitation. It is estimated that the mining of these resources would require the daily application of 950 tonnes of cyanide and some 22 million liters of water. [7] To this date, the Salvadoran government still has not given authorization to the exploitation of gold or silver and the future situation remains open. However, in the neighboring countries of El Salvador several mining projects already exist. The project Cerro Blanco situated in Asunción Mita, Guatemala closed its exploration phase and probably will start its exploitation of gold in 2010. [8] Cerro Blanco is about 20 km from the salvadoran border and part of the watershed of the reservoir Cérron Grande. Although there is no evidence that the cyanide found in the samples of the Cérron Grande comes from the project Cerro Blanco, there is a great risk of contamination of the water and environment by the different mining projects in El Salvador and its neighboring countries.

This study of the water quality of the largest waterbody in El Salvador is just one example of the drastic situation of water quality in the whole country. The national diagnostic of surface water quality carried out by the National Service of Territorial Studies (SNET) showed that only 20 % of the national rivers are suitable for the abstraction of drinking water, 24 % for irrigation, 14 % for recreative use in contact with humans and only 17 % were qualified as “good” thus allowing the development of aquatic life without any limitations. [9] But still only few data exist. The national monitoring is restricted to rivers and basic physical, chemical and biological parameters. Hardly any information exist about the quality of standing water bodies and even less about contamination of other chemical parameters such as heavy metals, pesticides or cyanide.

The causes for the bad quality of (surface) waters are manifold. Primarily, there is a high level of contamination due to the lack of waste water treatment. In 2008, only 1 % of the rural and 57 % of the urban population were connected to a sewage system. [10] Industrial waste waters also generally discharge directly into surface waters without any treatment. Reason for this not only is a lack of legal regulations but also of control and observing the existing laws. Besides, the existing regulations hardly have any maxima or recommended water quality criteria for surface waters. Without maxima values also doesn’t exist a contamination. And the threat to the environment posed by the mining projects could worsen the situation drastically. Water analyses of surface waters close to the gold mine San Martin en the Siri Valley, Honduras, resulted in almost all parameters above recommended water quality criteria for waters discharging from mines, such as cyanide, arsenic, lead, chromium, mercury, cupper, zinc and aluminium. Most of these heavy metals are accumulating in the food chain thus causing cancer and abnormalities of physiological development. Some of these contaminants also were found in the drinking water of wells close to the mine. [11]

Solving these problems is not an easy task. Measures have to be taken on all levels, from individuals up to international actions, to prevent further contamination and treat the existing pollution. There is big necessity to create awareness and sensitize the local population on sanitation, use of agrochemicals and protection of the environment and their water resources. Local organizations have to be strengthened, waster water treatment plants installed, quality of drinking and surface water monitored, observation of the existing laws controlled, the legal situation improved and maxima values implemented, and international agreements on transboundary watershed protection established.

Local organizations such as the Salvadoran Association of Human Aid Pro-Vida are focusing on working in the country side with the local population to help create awareness and sensitize the local population, strengthen local organizations and implement measures on regional as well as government level and, therefore, improve water quality and the quality of life.

Acknowledgement

I especially would like to thank INTERTEAM, a Swiss organization of Personnel Development Co-operation [12], for giving me the opportunity to experience and live in this country and work with the Salvadoran NGO Pro-Vida as well as to my colleagues of Pro-Vida for welcoming and supporting me. All projects are possible thanks to the support and assistance of our international partner organizations such as Oxfam America, Solidaridad International, Swiss Labor Assistance, Technical Cooperation Frank A. Escher, Swiss Solidarity, Georg Fischer Foundation “Clean Water”, ANESVAD, Elkartasuna and Intersol.

Further information: http://www.interteam.ch/einsaetze/fachleute.htm

References
[1] http://ramsar.wetlands.org/
[2] MARN/AECI. 2004. Ficha Informativa de los Humedales de Ramsar. El Salvador.
[3] Mäggi Hieber. 2009. Reporte del Estudio del Analyses de la Contaminación del Cérron Grande. El Salvador
[4] CEL / HARZA Engineering Company International L. P. 1999. Estudio Global de la Sedimentación en la Cuenca Del Rió Lempa, Apéndice C Estudio Ambiental. El Salvador.
[5] http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC33416
[6] Acuerdo Ejecutivo No. 151 de fecha 27 de junio de 2000, por parte del Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería, publicado en la pág. 57 de La Prensa Gráfica del 19 de julio de 2000
[7] Florian Erzinger et al. 2008. El lado oscuro del oro. Impactos de la minería metálica en El Salvador. El Salvador.
[8] http://www.goldcorpguatemala.com
[9] SNET. 2007. Diagnóstico Nacional de Calidad de Aguas Superficiales. El Salvador.
[10] Ministerio de Economia, Direccion General de Estadistica y Censos. 2008. Encuesta de hogares de propositos multiples. El Salvador.
[11] Florian Erzinger et al. 2008. El lado oscuro del oro. Impactos de la minería metálica en El Salvador. El Salvador.
[12] http://www.interteam.ch

The author

Maeggi Hieber
Contact: maeggi.hieber@interteam.ch

 

New centre for sustainable water management services

cewas will be officially inaugurated in Willisau, close to Lucerne (Switzerland), on 18 of May 2011. The centre aims to combine advanced education and support to start up a business. It builds up SMEs that can offer expertise in the field of sustainable sanitation and integrated water management on a national and international level. The cewas Start-Up programme is addressed to young graduates or professionals that have a strong motivation to advance their skills related to sustainable sanitation and water management and to start up their own business in the sector.

Start-Ups are supported by a core group of international experts (the cewas Think-Tank), bringing in their expertise, their networks and the current state-of-the-art knowledge of the sector. The cewas Training Centre is also open to individuals or members of an institution independently to the Start-Up programme.

In the Start-Up Centre each year up to 16 graduates and young professional get cewas Training and Start-Up support. We would be thankful if you could inform potentially interested people within your institution and network about this offer by spreading the news (e.g. on the blackboard) or if you could publish it on the internet/intranet.

Deadline for application for the Start-Up programme is April 11, 2011. Application is now open. Find out more on www.cewas.org -> Start your own business!

Download cewas Flier (PDF, 866 kB)

Water and Health: Where Science Meets Policy

UNC Annual Conference and networking and learning week and launch of the Water Institute at UNC

October 25 and 26, 2010
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC, USA

Water and Health:  Where Science Meets Policy will bring together experts
from academia, industry, non-governmental organizations, government and
foundations to provide an interdisciplinary perspective spanning science,
policy, practice and economics. The Conference will consider drinking water
supply, sanitation, hygiene and water resources with a strong public health
emphasis. The Conference will deal with critical concerns relevant to both
the developing and developed worlds.

You are invited to attend Water and Health:  Where Science Meets Policy, to
be held at UNC’s Friday Center for Continuing Education. Organized jointly
by the Water Institute and the Institute for the Environment of the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this conference will provide a
unique opportunity for those working at the intersections among water,
health and sustainable development. About 250 attendees are expected, drawn
from an international audience.

The Conference will also mark the public launch of UNC’s new Water
Institute, directed by Jamie Bartram, formerly of the World Health
Organization.

The Conference structure includes plenary sessions, paper presentations and
workshop sessions. Special sessions will deal with major developments in
international water, health and development such as the Millennium
Development Goals.

Main Conference themes include:

  • What works in water and health?
  • Financing for water and development
  • New challenges and climate change
  • Watershed protection and freshwater availability
  • Vulnerability to climate and land use change
  • Innovations and emerging trends
  • Technology and management
  • Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Health systems and WatSan
  • Impact and sustainability
  • Frontiers of regulation
  • Small systems
  • Beaches and coastal areas
  • Household water treatment and hygiene behaviors
  • Water scarcity, reuse

Networking space will be available the weekend prior to the Conference
(October 23 and 24, 2010) for groups wishing to take advantage of the
Conference to meet with new and established members.

For registration information, and information on conference logistics, visit
http://www.ie.unc.edu/content/news_events/symposia/2010/index.cfm .

Presenters may submit an abstract for a proposed paper. Abstracts are due on
May 15, 2010 and should consist of a 300-500 word description of the
presentation, summarizing the objectives, significance, and key findings.
Abstracts should be submitted electronically through the symposium’s
website, http://www.ie.unc.edu/content/news_events/symposia/2010/index.cfm .

Presenters will be notified by 1st July, 2010 if their submission has been
accepted. All presenters will be invited to prepare a written paper which
will be due on October 15, 2010.  All accepted papers and posters will be
published through the Conference Web site; and selected papers passing peer
review channeled to peer review journal publication.

The language of the symposium will be English.

For further details, please email wh2010@unc.edu, or call (919) 843-5738.

Source: Joe LoBuglio, The Water Institue at UNC, via Email

Waste to energy – a report from Bangalore

Going green is not only a mantra but also a practice on the 16-acre campus of ACTS Academy of Higher Education in Bangalore. The success story of using renewable energy for lighting the campus is now paving the way for Australian schools to go green. A theological institute, the ACTS Academy Campus in Rayasandra, situated 15 km from Koramangala, has made use of light emitting diode (LED) lamps, that are powered by a biogas generator installed in the campus.

This generator is primarily fed by kitchen wastes to power these LEDs that are used to light up the college exterior, study spaces and the canteen. Impressed by this model, Don Robertson, technical advisor to ACTS who is also working with Mission Australia, is now planning to replicate it in a school in Oz.

“The institute uses natural energy which helps reduce carbon footprints. The use of biogas, solar and wind together is an important feature of the smart chargers. This has cut power consumption by 80%. We are planning to replicate this project in one school in Australia now, and plan to cover all the schools in the country over the next 12 months. We are currently holding talks with the government in this regard,” Robertson said.

Explaining the contours of the model, RS Hiremath, CEO of Flexitron, an energy saving products manufacturer, who implemented the model in the campus, said that at least 400 kg of kitchen waste from the canteen and nearby hotels are used to generate biogas. The biogas-based electricity generator, with a 7.5KVA installed capacity, generates 15 kilowatt hour (kWh) power.

Earlier, the ACTS institute had installed a biogas generator to use kitchen waste. This gas was primarily used for cooking in the large kitchen.Later a biogas-based electricity generator set was fitted to use some of this gas to generate power. However, the gas was available only in limited quantities and the generator was operated only for a limited duration, which was not useful.

Flexitron then studied the campus and introduced smart chargers to enable the complete use of the power generated. “These smart chargers help charge batteries such that energy can be used for up to three days. The system can ensure a seamless link with solar, wind and grid power. The power consumption in the campus has come down from 10 kilowatt (KW) to 1 KW,” he said. He added that only 500 sq feet area is required for the biogas plant.

“The entire model cost about Rs10 to 12 lakh. The LED lights were designed after a lot of research which helped find the right colour and temperature to mimic sodium vapour lamps for optimal ‘light contrast ratio’, and maximise lumen output. These LEDs have a long operating life, and are among the best available globally today with the best lumen/watt ratio. These custom made LEDs of one to 54 watts are used in a unique electro-luminary combination throughout the campus,” said Hiremath.

He added that the limited time and capacity of the generator output is stored by the smart charger in a sealed lead acid battery to provide lighting for the entire campus through the night, long after the generator is shut down.

Source: DNA – A Bangalore newspaper, forwarded by K. Gnanakan, IEES board

Link to ACTS: http://www.acts.co.in/index.htm

New Book on Wastewater Irrigation and Health

(to be published in Feb. 2010)

In most developing countries wastewater treatment systems are hardly functioning or have a very low coverage, resulting in large scale water pollution and the use of very poor quality water for crop irrigation especially in the vicinity of urban centres. This can create significant risks to public health, particularly where crops are eaten raw.

“Wastewater Irrigation and Health” approaches this serious problem from a practical and realistic perspective, addressing the issues of health risk assessment and reduction in developing country settings. The book therefore complements other books on the topic of wastewater which focus on high-end treatment options and the use of treated wastewater.

This book moves the debate forward by covering also the common reality of untreated wastewater, greywater and excreta use. It presents the state-of-the-art on quantitative risk assessment and low-cost options for health risk reduction, from treatment to on-farm and off-farm measures, in support of the multiple barrier approach of the 2006 guidelines for safe wastewater irrigation published by the World Health Organization.

The 38 authors and co-authors are international key experts in the field of wastewater irrigation representing a mix of agronomists, engineers, social scientists and public health experts from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Australia. The chapters highlight experiences across the developing world with reference to various case studies from sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Mexico and the Middle East.

The book also addresses options for resource recovery and wastewater governance, thus clearly establishes a connection between agriculture, health and sanitation, which is often the missing link in the current discussion on ‘making wastewater an asset’.

Authors: Pay Drechsel, Liqa Raschid-Sahli, Mark Redwood, Akiça Bahri and Christopher A. Scott (editors)

Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Earthscan Ltd (28. Februar 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1844077969
ISBN-13: 978-1844077960

EAWAG’s Novaquatis wins transdisciplinary award

The Swiss Novaquatis project, focussing on research and development on the concept of NoMix toilets (urine separating toilets) won the award “td-net for transdisciplinary research” 2008 from the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences – carrying a prize of CHF 75,000.

EAWAG writes: “The award is made (…) in recognition of the project managers’ commitment to transdisciplinarity: as well as integrating environmental, engineering and social scientific research, they sought the cooperation of non-academic partners at an early stage.”

Source: http://www.eawag.ch/media/20081127/index_EN

Schuhmacher College, UK – New Programme out

Schumacher College, in its own words, “offers transformative learning for sustainable living. Courses at the College aim to empower and equip people who wish to make changes to the world situation they see developing around them.” The new programme for the period from Sep. 2008 to April 2009 offers a variety of intriguing courses.

Ecological engineers, for example, may find thrilling new ideas in concepts in the course “Ethical pioneers – an interactive masterclass for the new entrepreneur” (Nov. 24 – Dec. 5, 2008) or in “Systems thinking in practice” (March 9-27, 2009), or in the one year “Masters Degree in Holistic Science”.

The list of current and former teachers and guest teachers reads like a Who’s who of the ecological community: Wendell Berry, Michael Braungart, Jane Goodall, Margrit Kennedy, James Lovelock, Vandana Shiva, and many many others have been teaching and lecturing there.

Have a look at their website and download the new programme from there:
http://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/

BBC report on fish farming in Malawi

BBC reported about a successfull fish farming project in Malawi – one of the poorest countries in Africa.  The project combines Tilapia and Catfish farming in rain-fed ponds with raising chicken and goat crop farming (e.g., maize), thus recycling the nutrients very efficiently. A nice example for ecological engineering! Read more at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7683748.stm