Ecological System Designs for the Indigenous Community of
Maruata, Michoacan, Mexico
Maruata's primary resources- a fairly intact ecosystem...
Maruata is a Pomaro Indian village on the coast of Michoacan.
The people and land are beautiful and captivating. This was the last place the
road reached on the coast of Michoacan in the 70's, and they are currently at
the collision point between ancient ways of life and modern influences.
This page describes portions of a privately funded ecological design program
in the Pomaro territory.
The goals are:
- Safeguard the existing ecology and culture, including traditional systems
appropriate for low population density
- Encourage the development of sustainable, low entropy systems for areas
of higher population density
- Fortify the Pomaro's resolve to resist loss of land, culture, and incursion
of inappropriate developmentsomething they have done remarkably well
The parts of the program Oasis has been involved with includes development
of sanitary local sources for drinking water, improvement of the Maruata piped
water supply, improvement in the management of feces, greywater reuse for home
gardens and fruit trees to improve nutrition, and enhancing local business and
economic self-reliance. Other parts of the program include a nursery for turtle
eggs, a school, and medical assistance.
Future projects envisioned include a tree nursery, improved watershed &
forestry management, a bike shop, solid waste reduction/ recycling, and materials
to support the teaching of the Nahuatl language to children.
Thanks to the ReSource
Institute for taking over funding for this project in Spring of 2002
Land and people
Photos: Chris Lindstrom
|...fairly intact culture, and wonderful people
Maruata is a village of 1500 or so on a south-facing beach two hours south
on a winding road from Tecoman. There has only been a road in this area since
the mid seventies, electricity since the early nineties. There's one cell phone
but it's generally broken. The economy is based on subsistence agriculture,
fishing, small scale logging and tourism. The Pomaro Indians are a splinter
tribe of Aztecs who still speak Nahuatl. They have control over their own ancestral
land, to which every Pomaro has a birthright, and outsiders cannot own.
They are much more oriented towards enjoying life the way it is,
rather than "improving" things. While this makes, for example, a well-functioning
water distribution system a real challenge to facilitate, it is probably the
key attribute which has prevented them from organizing the wholesale destruction
of their ecosystem and nature-centered way of life.
Here's some of the work we did:
The development of Maruata has been on the back of the turtle. Prior to the
arrival of the road, there were thousands upon thousands of turtles. The road
enabled the meat and eggs to get to markets as far away as Japan. In the ensuing
"gold rush" decade the turtle population declined by 90% while the
human population increased by a factor of ten.
Turtles currently face a gauntlet of predation by pigs, dogs, and humans.
Maruata is one of only a handful of nesting grounds worldwide for the "negra"
turtle. Guarding the eggs in a turtle nursery helps give a chance that these
amazing creatureswhich predate the dinosaurswill continue to grace
the planet for millennia to come.
Following turtle tracks in front of our tent.
The tortugero Bubba and Dave built.
Showing off newly hatched "negra" turtles
ready for release.
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Drinking water has historically come from shallow (1-2) hand dug wells (pozos);
deep (3-6m), lined, hand dug wells (norias); or bottles (garafones).
Our testing showed that the entire
valley is underlain with drinking quality water from a few to fifteen feet down.
However, the open wells are quickly contaminated from above. The garafones
are the source preferred by everyone who can afford them, but they are really
expensive, both ecologically and economically. They cost about a dollar
for five gallons (10 pesos for 20L) and a family who uses them spends more on
bottled water than for corn, the staple food. Garafones get to town via a two
to four hour round trip on a narrow, windy road in a huge diesel truck. I calculated
that each garafon costs about a cup (100mL) of diesel fuel.
As a whole, the local economy loses about $50,000 a year for bottled water.
Development of a system or systems for using the clean water under their feet
is a high priority.
Pozo a couple of paces from a river of dilute
fecal matter. Amazingly, when freshly dug the water is clean due to filtration
of the sand (water test results
#m35). When the groundwater level changes, the well is re-dug.
Noria in town. The owners said the water was
good to drink for a year or two after they built it, but they didn't use
it for drinking when I took the picture (16)
and they abandoned it and filled it in a year later. When the rains really
hit, the entire surface of the ground is ankle deep in pig-shit laden
water (24), which pours down
into the pozos and norias alike.
Animals also crawl into norias and die there (2).
first choice for a drinking water source was a pipe network from gravity-fed
spring water (7). The difficulty
is that the monsoon unleashes such a deluge of fecal-matter contaminated
runoff (27) that it is very
difficult to completely protect a source.
This source, which is used by houses a half hour walk from town, we helped
protect by facilitating the construction of a rock wall to divert surface
A pipe network for drinking water is
also extremely difficult to maintain sanitary under third world conditions.
A cyclone scoured away some pipes buried 1 m (40") deep two years
after they were installed! Additionally, typical third world water systems
don't have pressure all day long, and have many leaks. When there is water,
it leaks out and forms puddles on the surface.
When the pressure drops (which happens multiple times
per day) the puddles of street dreck are siphoned back into the pipe and
will be the first water out of the taps when pressure is returned.
My second choice was containers filled at the source
with spring water in the dry season then rain water from the biggest,
cleanest roof in the wet season. However, testing showed that all roofs
are coated with feces dust during the long dry season, and even after
several inches of rain the water is still contaminated (28).
The villagers do collect rain direct from the sky
in clean pots when it's dumping rain, and this works well.
I decided that a tube well to the clean, good tasting groundwater right
underfoot would be the most dependable source of water clean enough for
the locals to drink in all conditions and even to sell to the softest
tourists. (I have observed that hardy locals seem to do fine with water
containing 50 ppb of fecal matter. I can handle about 10, while the softest
tourists can get sick on anything over 1ppb).
We had an interesting time trying to figure out how
to jet a tube well. If anyone knows how to do this efficiently on a small
scale, please let me know!
After temporarily giving up on jetting a pipe the
whole 6m, we found an abandoned noria in a really good location
to convert. The earth in this spot is a cap of relatively impermeable
soil a few meters deep. When they reached the sandy earth underneath that,
the water boiled up under pressure, rapidly rising two meters. The well
is on the property of one of the water system volunteers in town. After
the original construction, the noria did the usual downhill slide,
hastened by the cracking of the seal (above) and the partial collapse
of the culverts, which let soil and runoff fall in wholesale.
To convert it, we first bailed many buckets of anaerobic
black muck and "things" out of it, then pumped it clean with
a 1" electric pump and a two inch gas pump.
Then we jetted a 3" PVC pipe a couple meters
into the floor of it (the pipe shown is a full 6 m, so that's the depth).
We then packed the space with sifted gravel (sifting shown above). A couple
meters of coarse gravel were followed by the medium, then the fine.
The fine gravel was overlain with a meter of sand,
then a meter of clay.
The clay plug at the top makes entry of surface water
The clay was overlain with a concrete cap 2 m (6ft)
in diameter. This cap extends well past the original excavation onto undisturbed
ground (the first cap broke when the lining settled). When the well was
completely sealed, we poured a few cupfuls of chlorine down it and let
it sit for a day to zap any lingering nasties. Then we pumped it for several
With a 1" electric pump, the water level drops a few inches, then
holds steady indefinitely. It is important that the pump not suck air,
as the water used to re-prime it could introduce new contamination.
Al paticuzie mushtin --Nahuatl for "water
good to drink for the people"
The concrete was kept moist for a couple days against
cracks. Even with ankle deep monsoon runoff everywhere this water will
still be good to drink.
The easy part has worked
out well; the water has consistently tested at "non detected"
for coliform bacteria, which is better than the bottled water (it typically
has one or two general coliforms per 100m).
Now the hard part begins...enticing the villagers
to use and maintain the system. The current idea is a public/ private
partnership with the landowners and village.
Manual welding the lockbox for collecting resident's
contribution's at the garafon filling station.
Storage for fifty garafons with filling hose
Testing the water with Coliscan Membrane Filtration
and Hach presence/ absence tests. The coliform levels from the drinking
water well were consistently lower than the purchased bottled water, and
frequently zero coloforms per 100 ml, which is a lower level than that
frequently found in bottled drinking water in the US.
Water test results-
Fecal coliform measurements
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Repair of the old community springbox
water carrying livestock feces was entering through numerous holes. A
fence was installed around the spring area to keep animals from camping
out on and around the springbox-especially popular during the dry season.
The excavation of the new springbox
was a swamp frequented by livestock, now kept at bay by the perimeter
fence. The new springbox doubled the communities' water supply.
Walker laying blocks for the new spring box; actually a thirty foot long
mentioned earlier (under drinking water) some
of the challenges of building and maintaining a pipe network in the third
world. Maruata's supply line was made with PVC irrigation pipe that uses
bell ends with rubber seals instead of glue. This means that there is at
least one leak every 6 meters (20 ft)for 1600 meters (1 mi) of line!
The line is also too small, and we hope to replace it for both these reasons.
However, this is, believe it or not, one of the better systems in the region.
In fact, less than half the water systems in the region work at all. We
may replace the 2" pipe with some of the 13 km of 2.5" pipe which
the government provided a nearby village. Their system, which they put in
at incalculable effort, has never delivered a drop of water. Apparently
the deal is that politicians own the pipe companies, so they are very happy
to give indigenous commodities pipe at government expense, but they don't
care if the resulting system works or not.
least half of the water that makes it to the storage tank above the town
is then lost in leaks and overflowing water tanks downstream. We've helped
train some water volunteers to fix leaks in galvanized and PVC, and outfit
houses with valves. Float valves on the private water tanks (shown above)
would be great, if we could get them to last.
The bike I designed for my use while working on the
water system. It is outfitted with an altimeter and distance meteorite
survey the lines and hooks to carry long pipes for repairs. I later added
bins to carry wrenches and fittings.
Repairing a line to the west half of the village,
which has been dead for two years (it worked for a ten days when it was
first installed). This 6.5 meter (21 foot), 2 inch galvanized steel pipe
is pushing the limit for carrying by this means on the bike, but anything
less is no problem.
Living fence around the El Chorrito spring area
A project to improve water quality from the village spring by excluding animals
and contaminated runoff from the spring area.
This is being done using swales to redirect runoff and a fence with living
posts to keep animals out.
Digging trenches to prevent contaminated surface
runoff from entering the El Chorrito spring complex.
Planting trees along the berms from the trench tailings
will stabilize them against erosion.
When the fence posts rot out, the lline of new trees
will serve as fence posts.
Watershed reserve for El Chorrito spring watershed
A project to improve water quality and quantity from the village spring, provide
a genetic reserve of endangered forest plants and a site for possible eco tourism
by setting aside the watershed of the village springs as an area of no cutting
and no grazing.
One side of the fence may double as a portion of the enclosure for a deer raising
coop. Raising deer instead of beef cattle could help reduce deforestation for
Wildcrafted seeds of native hardwoods.
A local kid planting seeds along the watershed boundary above his house.
The 2003 reforestation team (read a story
about their work).
view from the ridge above the spring. Note the river bed, which was a
shaded, narrow deep channel before the road and deforestation arrivedit
is now a few hundred meter wide sunbaked sand bar.
^ Top ^
Maruata page 2
: Nursery, Greywater, Feces Management, Water testing, Cottage Industry
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Copyright © Art Ludwig 1997