Restoring Our Watershed

Restoring Our Watershed is an organization in Costa Rica that is working with Communities to restore the degraded land and groundwater in northwest Costa Rica.  The heart and soul of its strategy is empowering families to control erosion and capture more rainwater, most frequently using vetiver grass technology (VGT).

“Restoring Our Watershed is creating a positive model for watershed management to ensure that future generations will have access to plentiful water, both in the Nandamojo basin and throughout Guanacaste.

Why? Water scarcity threatens communities in northwestern Costa Rica, and the process of assigning blame is tearing many apart. Major industries, including tourism and agriculture, have been pitted against residents of small towns whose wells are going dry. In most cases, the proposed solutions to this crisis focus solely on infrastructure improvements (new wells) or limiting the amount of water industries can withdraw.

Climate change has taken its toll on Guanacaste, which has suffered both a long-term drying trend and shorter, intense periods of drought. Projections for the future cast a grim outlook for the province – less rainfall and an increasing frequency of droughts.

Digging new wells and limiting irrigation are not comprehensive strategies for adapting to the challenges presented by climate change. They are short-term methods for providing potable water that do not address the core problem created by droughts – that landscapes dry out, leaving human, plant and animal communities without sufficient resources.

It is possible to address that problem by renewing a landscape’s ability to absorb rainwater. By creating a “sponge-like” terrain with protected waterways, vast volumes of water that would be lost to surface runoff or evaporation can instead be harvested in aquifers and ecosystems. Our vision is that the Nandamojo basin will serve as a model for achieving this transformation on a watershed scale.

How? Our strategy includes three components:

  1. Promoting land use change at the grassroots level by empowering families to adopt practices that infiltrate more rain into groundwater aquifers. We work directly with landowners of any size, providing them with the tools, knowledge and plants needed to transform their landscape into one that absorbs more rain.
  2. Providing watershed stewardship education for stakeholders of all ages. We reach out to everyone from elementary school students to watershed elders to discuss the urgency of protecting shared water resources and strategies for doing so.
  3. Fostering sustainable, local economic enterprises that both improve watershed health while and provide financial resources for watershed restoration and protection. We’ve implemented the Bees for Trees micro lending program to create green jobs while financing the reforestation of river corridors.”
The Vetiver Network International has supported this type of strategy in the past and underscores its importance at this time.  Back in the 1980’s when John Greenfield and I introduced VGT to World Bank Watershed projects in very dry areas of south India I recall how farmers at Gundalpet (600 – 800 mm rainfall) who had been using vetiver as field boundary hedges for generations told us that their wells never dried up, whereas other villages that did not use vetiver often had dry wells.  I also recall how John demonstrated how small farm ponds were recharged by shallow groundwater where vetiver hedgerows had been planted for soil and water conservation.  Nowadays where water is becoming a real issue, we should perhaps promote vetiver for water conservation, which automatically will generated soil conservation benefits – the beauty of this unique plant and its applications!!