By Jenny Cook
For Joaquin Murrieta, water is a living element that pours from the sky, cascades down rivers, and seeps through the soil to replenish aquifers. Murrieta is Caminos de Agua’s keynote speaker during World Water Week, March 22-27, in San Miguel de Allende.
Murrieta has a doctorate in natural resource management with emphasis on policy and economics, and is a cultural ecologist for Watershed Management Group (WMG) in Tucson, Arizona. Murrieta’s main goal is to help create active, water conscious communities and to encourage replenishing of creeks and rivers, creating rain gardens, parks, and rain streets to help infiltrate rainwater back into the aquifer. These are major needs for the region of San Miguel where our aquifer–-which is our most important water source–-is rapidly depleting.
In natural environments, 50 percent of rainwater infiltrates into soil and fills the aquifer. WMG wants to replicate nature by creating so-called “sponge cities.”
“We transform and destroy a lot of natural systems. So, when we start looking at rain as a resource, we want to imitate the natural numbers with the same infiltration rate as in nature. That’s when you start recovering the aquifers and diminishing contamination. With 50 percent infiltration in Tucson, we can recover [our] aquifer in 50 years; it is a slow process but that’s with only 10 to 12 inches (250-300 mm) of rain yearly.
For us, the biggest components in harvesting rainwater are passive systems that increase the ‘productive units’ of water – creating green streets, wonderful bike boulevards with native vegetation that doesn’t require irrigation. Tucson had 7 flowing rivers 80 years ago; now one creek has been revived so far and certain parts of the city are greening. This also helps lower the temperature by 5 to 10 degrees celsius.”
Building rainwater harvesting tanks that catch roof water is also important, making people conscious of the need for water conservation and stopping the pumping of so much water from the aquifer. For Murrieta, doing this work in cities is fascinating because that’s where people are.“When you look at the globe, 65 percent of people live in cities; by 2050 it will be 90 to 95 percent. We love urban environments, the theater, music, malls, and coffee shops. So it’s fascinating to see how to develop cities that bring quality of life for humans and nature forward.”
Murrieta’s efforts also led to creating policy in the city government where residents may have rebates of up to US$2,000 for installation of a rainwater harvesting system. “This is great, really progressive. Both water providers and the government realized the economic benefits and the importance of recovering the aquifer and to make rivers flow again. We need to start developing homes with water storage cisterns built in; Catching rainwater from the roof is a huge change; we’re not dependent on government or anyone else; but only on systems that I am capable of building myself.”