Water Development in the Peruvian Highlands

Solutions to water resources management and water security require not only fundamentally sound science, but also a diverse coalition of trained scientists that recognizes and is aware of the needs and knowledge of local communities. Through our IRES award, we will train three cohorts of ten U.S. students from the Hispanic Serving Institutions of Humboldt State University (HSU) and Rutgers University, Newark (RUN) in applied, interdisciplinary and community-based water development. Each cohort will participate in a yearlong program consisting of three components: (1) a spring preparatory course which will link students from HSU and RUN via videoconferencing to their Peruvian peers; (2) a five-week hydrogeophysical field campaign centered in two communities in the Cusco region of Perú and led by an interdisciplinary team of U.S. and Peruvian scholars; and (3) a fall semester of independent research. The experience will empower a diverse cohort of students to be interdisciplinary and community-minded scientists as well as train members of the local communities to collect hydrologic data in order to guide best practices in water management and increase local water security and resiliency.

The puna biome, a seasonally dry grass and shrub ecosystem at the altitudinal limits of plant growth in the central Andes, provides the primary source of water to many small agrarian communities and large cities, such as Cusco. Despite its importance for water resources, however, the hydrology of the puna is poorly understood, especially with regard to storage capacity and seasonal runoff dynamics. Communities relying on puna derived water sources are thus potentially vulnerable to changes in water supply and uninformed water management decisions. We will guide students in a hydrologic, geologic and geophysical investigation to quantify water resources and flow pathways in two small (~ 2.2 km2) ‘end-member’ puna catchments. In one catchment, slow drainage from peat forming wetlands, known locally as bofedales, sustains perennial streamflow which supports community agriculture. In the other catchment, devoid of bofedales, stream flow is ephemeral, however the community harvests fracture flow for agricultural and municipal water use via a 140 m long tunnel. Our results will quantify water resources in puna landscapes with and without the influence of bofedales, inform model predictions of future changes in water resources, and guide community-based best practices in land and water management.

The Water Development in the Peruvian Highlands program is a collaboration between Humboldt State University and Rutgers University, Newark. This program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation under Award number 2107395. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.