Global Water Watch in the Andes1



Bryan L. Duncan2 and Sergio Ruiz-Cordova3





An "offspring" of SANREM Philippines experience, the Water Resources Management and Environmental Education activity in the Andes is approaching problems of water through community-based, participatory research. Forty-three citizens in Ecuador and eleven in Peru have become certified water quality monitors. Under sponsorship of UNORCAC, SANREM's partner in the Andes, a significant portion of water quality data obtained is the result of their efforts. Since July 1999 a time series of 2,800 bacteria tests have been done in the Cotacachi area at 219 sites. Seventy-nine percent of the samples were positive for coliforms and 43% for E. coli.  About 79% of the sites were found contaminated and municipal authorities are considering measures to solve the problem. Physical-chemical analyses of surface water have provided over 485 records. Successful implementation of this work in Cotacachi has resulted in "scaling up" activities in Ecuador and Peru. An important outgrowth of the SANREM water monitoring experience has been the conception and implementation of a Global Water Watch Network, which extends beyond the "SANREM countries.” PVOs in Brasil and China are the most recent Auburn partners. An exciting development linking Global Water Watch Network monitoring programs through a global database is nearing implementation.




 Scientists, citizens, news media and other sources are increasingly sounding the global water crisis alarm.  It is a complex and multi-faceted problem with political, economic, technological and educational components.  The end result, however, is clear and simple. Many people, particularly in the developing world, do not have access to enough water, or to safe water.  This condition results largely from inadequate protection of water resources and lack of conservation practices on watersheds.  


In SANREM project areas in Ecuador local concern is centered on impacts of water-borne disease on public health.  It is the perception of local citizens that waterborne diseases are increasing.  In 1992 a Cholera outbreak in Ecuador sent a powerful warning to citizens about the risk of disease related to quality of water.  Negative changes in water quality and quantity are perceived to have occurred in the last few decades.  Many of these changes result from contamination of water by human and livestock waste, and to land-use changes. 




Author Contact:  Bryan L. Duncan, Email:

1Paper presented to the SANREM CRSP Research Scientific Synthesis Conference, November 28-30, 2001, Athens, GA 

2Auburn University, 3Auburn University

Most water supply systems are small and depend upon conveyance of mountain spring water to community taps or homes with intermittent or no treatment.  They are thus vulnerable to disruptions and contamination. Even the city of Quito, capital of Ecuador, has inadequate wastewater treatment, as the deplorable condition of the Guayllabamba River attests. Leaching and runoff of pesticides from agricultural and horticultural crops into public water supplies also concerns local residents and researchers.  Mining activities in some areas threaten water quality and the integrity of watersheds by altering natural stream flows and contaminating surface waters with metals and acid.  Other industrial activities such as leather processing and textile manufacture introduce toxins to water.


Many citizens do not understand biophysical alterations of water and the implications of these changes.  Public participation in the processes of environmental assessment, prescriptions for remediation, policy formulation and environmental management is required for lasting, positive impact.  This emphasizes the need for public education and skills training for citizen involvement in water resource management.  SANREM’s emphasis on community-based water monitoring and participatory research is a response to this need.


Several years ago leaders of UNORCAC (Union de Organizaciones Campesinas e Indigenas del Canton Cotacachi) communities conducted an “autodiagnostico” to hear concerns of their citizens. SANREM personnel were invited to participate in this discussion. Problems of water quality and quantity were identified by community leaders and members as among their highest priorities.  A Community-Based Water Quality Monitoring project to address similar concerns had been implemented several years earlier in the Philippines and was beginning to have impacts at the local level.  In December 1997 Auburn University and the SANREM-ANDES project began a water project in Cotacachi, Ecuador in partnership with UNORCAC. These activities were modeled after the SANREM experience in the Philippines.  The overall goal is to foster development of community-based water quality monitoring groups that will collect credible water data. This data will generate knowledge of water quality and quantity trends that reflect land use and other watershed conditions, leading to environmental and policy improvements.  Preliminary SANREM water monitoring activities have begun in Peru, but are progressing slowly due to inadequate financial resources.




Citizen groups


The formation and organization of community groups interested in water monitoring is encouraged and assisted.  Workshops and field exercises are held by Auburn technical personnel and local counterparts to certify community participants in water quality assessment.  Sites to be monitored are selected by community members in consultation with local technicians.


Monitoring techniques


Training and monitoring protocols and techniques are modeled after those that have been developed and used by Alabama Water Watch, a citizen volunteer water quality monitoring program implemented in the U.S.  These protocols and techniques were developed and compared with laboratory methods, and approved by EPA for use in Alabama Water Watch based upon submission to EPA of a quality assurance protocol plan.  This lends credibility to the resulting data.  Credible and reliable data, generated by citizens, has also been demonstrated by the Tigbantay Wahig, a group of citizen water monitors organized in the Philippines.


Bacteriological monitoring of water for human consumption in participating communities and surface water (streams and springs) is conducted quarterly with assistance of an Auburn technician. The Coliscan Easygel method for coliform and fecal coliform testing is used, by Alabama Water Watch as approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December 1999.  This relatively new and inexpensive technique identifies and discriminates between E.coli and other fecal coliforms, and quantifies their presence so that water tested may be described according to international standards of safety.


Physico-chemical monitoring of water is conducted monthly.  Six parameters are tested using a field kit designed by Alabama Water Watch and manufactured by LaMotte Co. The tests are based on visual and colorimetric techniques.  With adequate training and supervised practice, community participants with limited education can measure air and water temperature, pH, hardness, alkalinity, dissolved oxygen and turbidity with credible accuracy.


Data management


Data is entered into datasheets stored in SANREM computer at Jambi Mascaric.  Monthly data files are sent via e-mail to Auburn University. Water monitoring is analyzed, summarized and presented in appropriate formats for use by citizen groups, educators and local decision makers.  The data is made available to other Andean SANREM researchers for incorporation into models, and for generating future scenarios.  An integrated relational database is in last stages of development by Alabama Water Watch at Auburn. This database will be accessible through a Global Water Watch web page that will allow data entry and acquisition from each of the Global Water Watch programs in various countries.  Cross-site comparisons of water data will be facilitated; standard protocols to assure data quality will be more easily sustained; and sharing of experiences between country sites will be possible.  Data submitted to the database can be analyzed at Auburn in easy to understand formats and posted to the web site.




Establishing and strengthening institutional partnerships and linkages is done through joint activities with partners, including training workshops, technical support services, and database development and maintenance. 

Since April 1999 four Basic Training Workshops on Water Quality Monitoring have been conducted in the Andes, three in Ecuador and one in Peru. Ongoing water quality monitoring has been conducted by citizen volunteers coordinated by Mr. Nicolas Gomez, a highly experience UNORCAC technician.  UNORCAC leaders have visited Alabama and have been hosted by Alabama Water Watch citizen monitoring groups.


Sr. Nicolas Gomez provides leadership for the UNORCAC Water Commission and for the water quality-monitoring program in Cotacachi.  He is a key collaborator with all of the SANREM projects associated with UGA and Auburn University.  He is well known and accepted in UNORCAC communities. His ready communication with citizens has stimulated interest in becoming certified water quality monitors.  He has also introduced environmental education activities in schools.


Partnership with the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE) is minimal at present, but they have expressed interest in assisting with database management and GIS applications.  During the first years of SANREM in Ecuador PUCE-Q strongly participated in field activities confirming GIS positioning and mapping of the watersheds in the UNORCAC area, as well as supporting chemical and bacteriological monitoring.  PUCE campus in Ibarra is now the stronger partner because of their proximity to field sites.  Students from the School of Agriculture are participating in field activities in the Canton Cotacachi and assisting with the coordination of water quality monitoring, training of citizens and data management.







Chemical and bacteriological testing has been conducted periodically since July 1999, mainly from community drinking water sources in Cotacachi Canton.  Water sampling sites for drinking water are springs and associated structures, distribution and treatment tanks, community and household taps, and household storage containers. Surface water sites were also sampled.


Physico-chemical analyses of water samples from 113 sites have been reported accounting for 485 records.  Seven bacteriological surveys have tested about 2,800 water samples for coliform bacteria from 219 sites representing 55 rural communities (45 of these communities are members of UNORCAC). 


·        Water is unsafe for human consumption in more than half of the forty-five UNORCAC communities.  Eighty-four percent of the sites tested positive for coliform bacteria and 32% revealed the presence of E. coli.  


·        Of the grand total of 55 rural communities studied, Coliform bacteria were found in drinking water of 49 of these communities.  E. coli  was found in 45% of those water samples.


·        Contamination of household water is usually related to the condition of the spring source (water from 16 spring sources was tested), distribution and storage boxes, pipes that convey water to the communities and homes, and containers used used in homes for water storage.  Water samples that came from water previously treated with chlorine in distribution tanks or home storage containers were free of coliforms. Results of surveys were presented to the community leaders in each location.

·        Fifty-four out of sixty-three surface water sites (springs, acequias, rivers, creeks and the lake) presented E. coli, and all had some degree of contamination by coliforms.  These included 39 sites from rivers, ten sites in acequias across the Cotacahi  area, and five sites on Cuicocha Lake.  Samples from the north side of Cuicocha Lake and the Alambuela Bajo River had low levels of coliform contamination, while the other sites had unsafe levels of coliform contamination.  The use of streams and other surface water bodies for watering animals, plus lack of vegetative zones along and around these water bodies are probably the main sources of contamination.




  • An understanding of the relation between the presence of coliform bacteria, safety of water for drinking and sources of contamination, and the ability to test their water for bacterial contamination, has created the possibility for ordinary citizens to know the quality of their water and take measures to improve it.  Community members have indicated that this knowledge and understanding has motivated them to participate in water monitoring activities.


  • Improvements have been made in the infrastructure of water systems in Cotacachi following analyses showing presence of coliforms.  For example, analysis of water samples from the community of El Batan in 1998 and 1999 showed high numbers of coliforms and prompted actions to solve the problem. Tests conducted at El Batan in 2000 and 2001 showed significant reduction in coliform numbers as a result of cleaning the collecting tank and fencing the area to reduce incursions by people and animals.    Similar situations have occurred in other communities.  When bacteriological tests show high numbers of E. coli contamination the Junta de Agua operator and other community members work to improve conditions of the water-collecting tank.  Subsequent tests after cleaning or reconstruction reveal absence of E. coli and reduction of other coliforms. 


  • Community members in Turucu expressed dislike of chlorination and discontinued it.  They were pleased to know from monitoring data that after improvements to their drinking water collecting tank they no longer had to chlorinate their water in order to drink it with confidence.


  • The SANREM Water Resources activity is helping to inform citizens on water issues, and is also influencing decision-making by community leaders in Cotacachi.  Water issues play an important political role in Cotacachi.  Citizen sensitivity to water issues has resulted in election of municipal leaders who make water improvements a priority item in their platforms.  Water monitoring is then looked upon favorably by the elected leadership who seek decision support tools that SANREM is committed to provide.  A relationship has thus been established with the mayor of the City of Cotacachi, who also is seeking SANREM assistance for the municipal water treatment facility.


  • Community-based water quality-monitoring program as participatory research involving citizens from all UNORCAC communities has created a basis for strengthened cooperation between indigenous and mestizo people.  Water resources are often at the center of confrontation and controversy, but interest in citizen monitoring and in water issues has strengthened the basis for cooperation. 






Fifty-four volunteers have received formal training and have been certified as water quality monitors since April 1999.  This includes technicians of partner organizations.




Peru:  Visits to Peru in response to requests from that country revealed need and a high degree of local interest in developing water-quality monitoring programs.  Intensive mining activities have degraded many streams.  Water analyses in Quilcas and Junin have confirmed suspicions of citizens about pollution of their irrigation canal, which receives from the river that carries sewage from a mining operation upstream.  The citizens also have concerns about other possible contaminants from the mining operation. This has prompted Yanapai Group leaders to ask for testing for heavy metals. 


People with the Water Forever Project (Urpichallay Group) in the Ancash area are conducting a water-monitoring program in ten sites across the area.  Intensive mining has created concern about pollutants going into streams and into their agricultural fields.  They are measuring pH, dissolved oxygen, acidity, alkalinity, conductivity, iron and aluminum.  Their techniques were tested side by side with SANREM techniques at several sites.  Measurements were similar with both kits and suggestions were made for made for improving their techniques. They were impressed with the ease of use of the SANREM water testing kit, and requested cooperation with SANREM to find easy to use and inexpensive tests for lead and arsenic.  Investigations by Auburn revealed that the additional tests requested do not currently lend themselves to field-testing.  They are also interested in conducting toxicity bioassays using aquatic macroinvertebrates.  Further development of a SANREM-assisted Peru activity is constrained by lack of funding resources.


China:  In 1999 Heifer Project International/China requested Auburn assistance to initiate water-monitoring activities in communities that they were assisting with animal production projects.  A basic certification workshop was held for water quality monitors.  HPI/China assigned a staff member to provide leadership for water monitoring.  This activity is at an early stage and HPI/China is dealing with the challenges of group organization, acquisition of monitoring kits and supplies, funding of the effort, and overall objectives of the potential program.  The responsible HPI/China staff member has attended training and conference activities in the U.S. and the Philippines.  The HPI/China Program Director has also attended a SANREM water monitoring conference in the Philippines.  The overall effort is an extension of the SANREM Philippines experience of SANREM partners HPI and Auburn.


Brazil:  In 1999 an American NGO with community development projects in a number of countries approached Auburn for assistance with problems of water quality and quantity on degraded watersheds of a major river valley in northeast Brazil.  Auburn developed a work plan for a long-term effort based on our experiences with SANREM, and experiences in Alabama and Haiti.  A community-based, participatory research program has been initiated.  Water monitoring protocols are identical to those used in SANREM.  Water quantity problems are being vigorously addressed.  Adaptive research in conservation farming methods is being conducted.  The NGO has adopted the “SANREM approach, is funding their new program, and is making significant progress institutionalizing the program.


Integration with other SANREM projects in Ecuador


Integration of Water Resources Management and Environmental Education in the Andes with other projects has recently begun to advance.  The Natural Resource Management project is working on the analysis of social capital and organizational capacity of secondary-level organizations, and as part of the research process they encourage reflection on natural resource conflicts.  Management of the bioreserve, including Lake Cuicocha, is a clear example of this. UNORCAC has also focused their programs based on micro-watershed planning projects around water quality in Cotacachi.  UNORCAC leaders have noted the need to seek methods to empower local communities to take constructive and effective political action.  They also recognize the need for credible data to support their political action.  Hence, the integration of biological and social projects is necessary and urgent. Political and institutional analysis should provide an important input into analysis of the viability and impacts of alternative development visions.


Interactions have begun this past year with the work plan Effects of Land Use Change on Long-Term Soil Fertility, Crop Productivity and Water Quality in Cotacachi.  Two meteorological stations have been set up and climate data is being collected to serve both work plans.  In addition, this work plan is monitoring the Yanayacu River for Total Suspended Solids, a water quality parameter also of interest to the Water Resources work plan.  A comparison will be made of the different methods used by the two work plans.   


The several work plans of the Andes project have utility for local NRM and planning. Each will contribute to useful interventions in water, soil fertility, biodiversity and irrigation management. However, the promise of this project is to provide an alternative approach to planning, which explicitly incorporates local perspectives and can back up those proposals with data and analysis meaningful to stakeholders with whom the future will be negotiated.  Work plan integration will enhance the potential to estimate the impacts of alternative development pathways on water supply and quality and aggregate agricultural output.




Effective community-based water monitoring and participatory research must have strong, indigenous, institutional backing which targets community members as the principal actors.  While the structure of such efforts will differ from place to place in adaptation to social and political realities, capacitation and empowerment of community members for direct involvement in water monitoring is seen as the sine qua non of a vigorous and sustained program.  Work must be done to encourage and enable indigenous institutions and technical resources to work towards this end.


Successful water monitoring programs will depend upon the technical resources of local institutions, such as universities, to deliver technical support necessary for backstopping citizen monitoring.  It also depends upon means of obtaining water testing materials, and a source of adequate and stable financial resources.  It further depends upon integration and sharing of information and insights among the SANREM work plans active in Ecuador.

The constraints described above are not insurmountable, particularly where citizens are convinced of the benefits, and are empowered to impact political decisions at local levels.  The benefits of a healthy, active and productive water monitoring program are incalculable for individuals, communities and the environments in which they live.




Deutsch, W. G. & Busby, A.L. (1999).  Quality Assurance Plan for Bacteriological Monitoring for Alabama Water Watch. Auburn, Alabama: Auburn University.


Deutsch, W. G. & Orprecio, J. L. (2000).  Formation, Potential and Challenges of a Citizen Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Group in Mindanao, Philippines. In Cultivating Community Capital for Sustainable Natural Resource Management.  Experiences from the SANREM CRSP. Ed. K. Cason, 62 pp. Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Collaborative Research Support Program.