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Page 2: Ecological System Designs for the Indigenous Community of Maruata, Michoacan, Mexico

(Maruata page 1)

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Women's garden committee and cooperative nursery

In December of 2002, together with a group of native women we've formed a garden committee and Nursery cooperative to take on the following projects:

Descriptions of the latter two items follow...


Restoration of El Chorrito watershed

Walking to the spring

(Right) Three of the eleven garden committee members and their kids at the spring to scout for plants and plan the project.


Nursery coordinator Isidra with a dozen baby wild fig trees for the nursery.

The five foot diameter tree behind her is an adult of the same species.

We are going to plant smaller trees such as cocobolo between every post of the fence (visible in photo above), so that when the fence posts rot out there is a living fence of trees that will protect the spring area from goats and pigs for many years (see photos from the implementation of this project).

Larger species will anchor parts of the fence that are vulnerable to flooding in cyclones. The fig above anchors the spring fence from being washed away by the creek, which runs between the tree and the concrete box in the foreground.

Later, we hope to make a living fence around the entire 10 hectare(20 acre) watershed (see photos from the reforestation project).

The anticipated benefits are less flooding and higher dry season spring flow, both due to greater infiltration of water into the earth.

The cost is projected to be much less than that of replacing the concrete spring boxes, which are assured to be destroyed by peak cyclone flows otherwise. It is possible that higher spring flow will eliminate the need for (and cost of) a third spring box.


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Greywater irrigated orchards

The greywater from 98 out of 100 homes—nearly 1000 people—was feeding festering black puddles. December 2002 we got it down to 90.

The Washwater which used to feed this black puddle was rerouted into irrigation furrows ( right), which water and feed about 20 fruit trees. Because the water is spread over a wide area, it never stays on the surface long, so it doesn't stink or breed vermin.

The greywater from this laundry area and shower used to just run over the path. Shade for the dishwash area (not shown) was from an umbrella.

A dozen bananas of five types, ten coconuts and two papayas were planted to reuse and purify the water.

The papayas are inside the shower enclosure to provide maximum protection from animals (the fruit will be well overhead, so it won't get splashed).

The bananas are right around the use areas, to provide shade and receive plenty of water.

The cocos are further downstream, as they don't need much water (and to reduce the chance of a bather getting clonked on the head with a coconut).

Cocos were also planted around the cesspool, to take up some of the nitrate which otherwise contaminates the aquifer.

All the trees got a bucket of compost from last year's latrine to help them get started in the beach sand.

Compost not fed to the pig—fish guts and bones— used to be a nuisance spread over the path. This is now converted to bananas.

Planting coconuts for the shower.

Hiring women gets around the problem that men often spend most of the money they earn on beer.

Paying women the same as men (instead of the going rate of about half) helps advance equality




A four kilo (ten pound) papaya from greywater irrigated trees at a house with only hand-carried water for domestic use.

The papayas which weren't near greywater trenches didn't bear at all.

The irrigation furrow design was independently discovered by Art Ludwig and two of the garden committee members. None knew the others had figured it out until we started the garden committee.

The garden committee is currently growing the 700 fruit trees necessary to add greywater orchards for every house in the village, a job we hope to finish within a year or two.

We're training the garden committee members to design these systems, and are paying them for their labor to install them and train their neighbors in their maintenance.

The systems require no materials other than soil and plants, and only a soil forming tool such as a hoe to form the irrigation furrow. The cost of parts is zero.

It takes a few minutes a week to maintain.

The conversion reduces the threat of mosquito born diseases such as dengue fever, improves nutrition and economic self-reliance.

Though the technological aspect is simple, the natural complexity is far greater than that of a ten million dollar treatment plant.

The design of each greywater garden is totally specific to the site and users.

Besides gardening skill, the system requires that greywater generation patterns be balanced dynamically against plants needs, within the technical constraints of unlined furrow irrigation.

During the training of the garden committee members who are going to install the systems and train their neighbors how to maintain them, we'll be working on a comic book in Spanish which explains how to design, install and maintain this type of system.

Gray water garden beds and trenchesA new greywater system to treat water from between five and two hundred showers a day (it used to go into a pig wallow on the side of the river).

Though my California Department of Health Services brainwashed brain initially rebelled against the idea, the locals prefer clean-swept ground to mulch and don't mind looking at greywater. I worked with them to re-form the irrigation field into a series of beds surrounded by canals. The only difference in the maintenance compared to what they normally do is to adjust the levels in the trenches so the wetted area is even (this photo taken before the upper right trench was lowered and the upper left trench area raised).

Grey water trenches with high loading.

It is a real shock to the system when the loading goes from five showers a day to two hundred. The old 'pig wallow on the way to the river' system smelled something fierce even with moderate loading.

The photo at left was taken at the peak season, which the system made it through this year with out any anaerobic odor at all this year (though just barely, I suspect). The standing water would subside all the way by about 5 am, then get refilled about 6am when people started taking showers.

Some of the more than 100 fruit trees grown in the cooperative nursery in July 2003, which we planted out in about ten new greywater-fed orchard systems.

Irrigation furrows formed below a washing board.


Garden committee members pushing gender boundaries by installing a masonry floor at Vicinta's house—normally men's work.
The masonry floor is nicer to stand on than mud, and will shed water faster to irrigate thirsty bananas, which also provide shade to the laundress.

Irrigation channels for bananas at Genoveva's house. The more sloped the land, the more sinuous the channel. Note the coconut husk which serves as a valve where the trenches divide.

The garden committee adding another branch to Genoveva's system.

Hilberta flanked by two new irrigation furrows which drain the small swamp where the greywater used to stagnate. There are nearly invisible baby fruit trees along each trench.

(Note the rosewood chunk at her feet, unfortunately destined for use as firewood).

Garden committee members planting on the south, east, and west sides of an inferno-hot, shadeless washroom. The plants which will provide welcome shade as well as fruit in less than a year.


Sauro's greywater-irrigated lime orchard

About 15 women and children from the garden committee planting an orchard with about 30 trees left in the nursery after planting the private orchards, mostly limes.

This installation required an innovative micofinance arrangement.

Sauro, the orchardist pictured at right, has an exceptionally high output washroom, as his is the only household with it's own private connection to the spring, a 2" line which he uses for irrigation.

He also has a lot of rich bottom land, and a perfect, fan-shaped area slope of half a hectare below the washing area; absolutely perfect for receiving the greywater.

What he didn't have was any money—not even five bucks for the bus to go buy barbed wire to fence the area off.

What we ended up doing was loaning him the fifty dollars necessary to get the area fenced. This is to be paid back at the rate of 50% of the income from tomatoes and chilies he grows in the fenced area while the limes are maturing.

To cover the extra trees he got beyond the ten per house covered under the program, he will trade baby bananas from his orchard.

Under this arrangement everybody wins:

  • The women sold every tree they'd grown
  • Sauro got an orchard and garden plot he couldn't have afforded to develop on his own
  • Tourists in December will have fresh, organic local tomatoes and chilies instead of chemical-laden commercial produce from hours drive away.
  • We got to advance several project goals on one site

Files for our greywater system program:

Site evaluation form (.doc, Spanish)

Site review form (.doc, Spanish)

Greywater suggestions (.doc, Spanish)


Teodoro and Teresa's public outdoor shower

Construction of a natural materials outdoor shower at Teodoro and Teresas. String lines mark the 3% slope. The 50-150 kg rocks are planted deep in the ground to resist rouge waves.

Note the buried, bottomless compost bucket in the bottom right. This is for kitchen waste which is not suitable for feeding the pig—primarily fish guts and bones. When it fills 2/3 of the way, you just haul up on the bucket handle and the compost stays there. Dig a new hole to plant the bucket, placing the tailings over the last compost. Circling around the root tips of the trees, this in place composting system, in conjunction with the urine from bathers and soil and compost in the initial planting, will keep the trees well-fed indefinitely.


Some locals are heading in the direction of showers in concrete boxes, because this is what they see on TV and assume tourists want.

Unfortunately, these tend to turn into dark, dank, mildewy slime pits.

Also, when the cyclone knocks them down, they turn to trash: a mess of partially sand-buried twisted rebar and concrete.

Despite the fact that it was much preferred by tourists, Teodoro's charming outdoor shower was threatened with this sort of "progress." So, we offered to spruce up the existing one and build an new one out of all natural materials.

The floor is made from dry laid brick, held in place with a ring of huge river rock. It is raised 20 cm above the surrounding sand and has a turtle-back shape to shed water and sand in all directions, for easy cleaning and quick drying (that is, minimal slime-generation).


Tamping down the sand inside the ring of rocks before laying the brick. The corners between the round floor and square walls are perfect sheltered planting spots for papayas.

Privacy is provided by palm fronds (not installed yet) on hardwood posts. Coconuts, bananas and papayas provide shade and pump the grey water out from under the shower, so when the use peaks at 300 showers a day (!) it does not turn into a swamp.

A swale around the shower prevents greywater from running off over the surface.

The gaps between the rocks are mortared with clay/soil mix designed to attract feeder roots from the fruit trees. It is anticipated that (if a cyclone doesn't tear it apart first) these roots will bind the rocks together tightly like the rocks one sees hanging in the air on the side of gulches, held fast by encircling roots.

This design feature was inspired by finding zero roots in the sand even right around year old trees, but a solid mat of roots in a 2mm thick layer of silt 70 cm below the surface.

Perhaps when the cocos are big, if they were bound together at the top with a chain and lifted with a crane, the whole shower—ring of rocks, bricks, trees, posts, the works—would come up in one piece.

This should help it resist cyclones. If not, it doesn't matter. All the natural materials would either turn to compost or could be reused for rebuilding a new shower.


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Feces management

Field defecation.

Most natives and many travelers use the bushes for a bathroom (technically known as the "defecation field" method). Pigs clean up the mess.

Ruin of failed composting toilet.

This is a ruin of a composting toilet put in by earlier aid workers, with the victorious pigs in the foreground. This was right in front of where we lived, and passing it several times a day was a constant reminder of the difficulty of actualizing benefits in this environment.

Painting plywood rainbow toilet cover.

We made an "earth toilet" type latrine for our end of the beach. Latrines are tricky here; people generally go in the bushes or use pour flush toilets. This toilet did at least get two of the estimated 15 cubic meters of Easter rush fecal mater off the beach, and the owners of the palapa took the lid, cleaned it and stored it with the intent to use it again next year, so maybe this will work. This was a plywood model for more durable ones to be made out of Koramo (highly rot resistant local hardwood) or concrete.

Plywood latrine cover and hole underneath.



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Water tests and results

Water test results- Maruata (interesting but somewhat long and technical).


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(Maruata page 1)