Our first week in Mexico was filled with thrilling adventures and exciting new experiences! Some of our most unforgettable memories include long bus rides without air conditioning, exciting interactions with a new culture, a group of wonderful new people, and best of all, numerous breathtaking panoramas of a beautiful country.
The first week of this year’s UMB-WEST campaign focused on visiting several water resource infrastructures in Sonora, as well as interacting with key local decision makers. These “sustainable tours” were particularly insightful during this campaign due to the current dispute over the control of water between the continuously growing capital city of Sonora, Hermosillo, and the long-existing group of local farmers known as el Pueblo Yaqui. The origins of this conflict can be traced back to the semi-arid climate that exists in the Sonora region, which has left the city of Hermosillo with limited water resources for its increasing population.
Sonora’s Sistema Integral (Sí), a multi-faceted effort by the federal government with the purpose of managing water resources in the state of Sonora, recently finished the construction of the long-planned Independence Aqueduct. This aqueduct, which is already in use, transfers water from a reservoir that belongs to the Yaqui Valley river system, known as el Novillo, to the city of Hermosillo. The Novillo reservoir is a key water resource for the Yaqui farmers, who highly depend on this body of water to irrigate their crops. It is under these circumstances that the group had the opportunity to witness, first hand, the legal and social ramifications that have emerged from the completion of the Independence Aqueduct.
Lunch at Elba in Santa Ana, Sonora
Our first day began with lunch at a popular restaurant in Santa Ana, Sonora known as Elba. If you followed the blog posts from last year’s campaign, you may recall that this restaurant is famous for its milanesa, a breaded cutlet chicken also known as “oreja de elefante” (elephant’s ear) due to its very large size. Only one person was up to the challenge of finishing one entire milanesa by himself. This was Dr. Giuseppe Mascaro, who not only earned the respect from the group by finishing the whole dish, but also passed the test of immersing himself into Mexican cuisine.
Upon our arrival at Hermosillo, our Mexican colleagues, who had also just arrived from various locations, including Ciudad Obregon and Ciudad Juarez, greeted us warmly. After some brief introductions, and a bit of socializing, the entire UMB-WEST group was united for the first time. We went over some logistics and plans for the following week, and by the end of our meeting, everyone was ready for bed. However, it was clear that a sense of excitement was present as everyone looked forward to the new experiences our first week would bring.
Michael Bierwagen, a UMB-WEST participant from SESE, has joined me to retell the thrilling stories of our first week in Mexico:
Agua de Hermosillo
Representatives of Agua de Hermosillo informing the students on the water crisis in Sonora.
Our series of sustainable tours kicked off early Monday morning with a presentation given by Agua de Hermosillo, the municipal agency in charge of providing water to the city of Hermosillo. All through the presentation, city officials explained past and current water situations in the city of Hermosillo, and throughout the region. Prior to the construction and implementation of the Independence Aqueduct, water was being rationed, causing residents to have limited access to running water. The running water varied between 4 to 6 hours a day, entailing them to store their water in tanks for later use throughout the day. Not only was the water rationing incapable to fit the needs of the general population, it was also damaging the water distribution system due to the lack of constant pressure throughout the pipes. Currently, water is being provided 24-hours a day to the entire city through a water system that includes extracted water from El Novillo, transferred via the Independence Aqueduct, and pumped groundwater from local wells.
After our visit to Agua de Hermosillo, we stopped briefly at the Rodriguez Reservoir, which neighbors the city of Hermosillo. The Rodriguez Reservoir represents a poorly located reservoir that fails to hold water, since most of it evaporates or soaks into the ground rapidly. This water infrastructure works to provide the city of Hermosillo with some flood protection, but fails overall as a working reservoir.
El Oregano Stream Gauge Site
The technician demonstrating how to use the stream flow gauge.
On Tuesday, we visited a site known as El Oregano, where we met stream gauge technicians in charge of measuring the stream flow of the Rio Sonora, year round. The technicians demonstrated the process of taking stream flow measurements, and exposed the group to various techniques and instrumentation critical to taking these measurements. Additionally, the technicians took us to a nearby reservoir known as El Molinito, which prior to the Independence Aqueduct, provided a large portion of Hermosillo’s water.
Table Grape Producers
Following the Molinito Reservoir visit, we traveled north to visit a table grape vineyard known as Pesqueria. The vineyard belongs to the Grupo ALTA, a company that distributes table grapes and other produce internationally to the United States, Japan, China and certain countries in Europe. We had the privilege of meeting the owner of the company, who gave us a presentation on the low water use practices and the organic methods used within the vineyard, in order to grow table grapes efficiently in the Sonoran Desert ecosystem.
Participants were excited to try the grapes!
Sonora Sí Headquarters
Sonora Si Headquarters
Our sustainable tours continued on Wednesday as we visited the headquarters of Sonora Sí, the program in charge of meeting the water needs of Hermosillo’s growing population. After a quick tour around the facility, we attended a talk given by the lawyer who represents Sonora Sí in the political battle over the control of water from El Novillo. The lawyer provided some interesting background information on the conflict, and gave us his perspective on future implications of water in the Sonoran region.
Water treatment plant located in the outskirts of Hermosillo.
After our visit to the Sonora Sí headquarters, we traveled to a local water treatment facility, which is one of the few treatment plants located in Hermosillo that provide clean water to its residents. Technicians at the water treatment facility guided us through the process of treating water, including flocculation, sedimentation and disinfection.
Independence Aqueduct and El Novillo Reservoir
Participants get a beautiful view of the Novillo reservoir.
Following our tour of the water treatment plant in Hermosillo, we travelled to El Novillo Reservoir, which is the site where water is pumped from and transported to Hermosillo via the Independence Aqueduct. It is through this tour that we actually got to see first hand the famous Independence Aqueduct, which we learned had been built in a time span of only 14 months! There are five pumps currently extracting water from the reservoir and pumping it up to a storage tank located at a higher elevation. It is from this storage tank that the water is transported to the city of Hermosillo via gravity. Additionally, we were given a brief tour of the controls rooms where the pumps were being operated.
The Independence Aqueduct
El Novillo Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant
El Novillo Dam
One of the most exciting tours that we participated in during the first week of the campaign was our trip to El Novillo dam and hydroelectric power plant, which took place on Thursday morning. This immense dam has been operating since 1964, and generates an impressive 135,000 kilowatts of electricity to the city of Hermosillo. A group of engineers gave us an exclusive tour of the dam, which is very rare at this facility. During our tour, we got to: visit the controls system room where the 4 turbines of the power plant were being operated; personally see the turbines in action; walk through the tunnel system inside the dam; and even walk on the top of the dam’s curtain! It was no wonder that this was one of the most favored tours!
Participants climbing the curtain of the Novillo Dam.
Our new friend from El Novillo!
Once the tour ended, we headed back to our bus thrilled to find some shade from the scorching heat, only to find out that our bus had broken down! Thus began our exhilarating adventure in trying to find a shaded place to wait for another bus to arrive (which we knew would likely take about 3 hours due to our remote location). Nevertheless, UMB-WEST participants weren’t discouraged and found a way to entertain themselves and enjoy each other’s company. Once the bus arrived, participants were exhausted from a long day and ready to take a nap on the bus. However, our adventure didn’t finish here. As we made our way to Ciudad Obregón, we learned that we had an unexpected friend with us. A turtle had also boarded the bus back in El Novillo, and was walking around loose under our feet! It wasn’t until we arrived to our destination that we found the little guy under one of the seats, forever deeming him as the UMB-WEST turtle!
Participants looking for shaded area to wait for a new bus.
Yaqui Valley Representatives
Our meeting with Yaqui Valley representatives.
Our sustainable tours continued despite the minor delay we had due to our broken bus. On Friday morning, we met with Yaqui Valley Irrigation District representatives in the city of Obregón. This group of people represents the opposing side of El Novillo conflict. They explained how droughts have affected their crops in the past, especially during the devastating 2002 drought. The representative also explained how there is not enough water for the Pueblo Yaqui’s agricultural activities due to the Independence Aqueduct. Finally, it was also pointed out that Article 3 of the Mexican National Water Law written in 1931 essentially states that water from one watershed cannot be transferred across another watershed, something that the current Independence Aqueduct is doing.
New sustainable methods of growing crops at INIFAP-CIANO.
Following our meeting at the Irrigation District with the Yaqui Valley Representatives, we visited researchers at the INIFAP-CIANO facilities near the city of Obregón where they demonstrated the use of agricultural conservation practices. Some of these practices included the utilization of retaining the base of wheat plants from previous winter crops as hay in the fields without plowing or tilling the fields. This process of maintaining wheat plants as hay reduces the surface temperature of the soil by a whopping 20°C! This practice also conserves soil, minimizes costs, water usage, wind impact, and weed intrusion, retains soil moisture, and even eliminates the use of tractors, which essentially reduce CO2 emissions. With the use of this process, sorghum crops can grown in the Yaqui Valley region near Ciudad Obregón, something believed to have been impossible (especially in the middle of the intensely hot Sonoran summers!)
One of the engineers explaining certain methods of growing crops that are practiced at INIFAP-CIANO.
As you can see, our first week in Mexico kept us busy and was filled with new adventures, as well as unforgettable learning experiences. Stay tuned to hear about our second week in Mexico as we begin our field experiments in the city of Rayón.
Hasta la próxima! (Until next time!)
Seth Morales & Michael Bierwagen
UMB-WEST 2013 Participants