Micro-watershed that feeds into the Yaque del Norte River system
During June 2017, I spent two weeks in the Dominican Republic with the goal of training Dominican colleagues on themes related to water conservation and water quality. The majority of my assignment was focalized in the Arroyo Gurabo micro-watershed of the Yaque del Norte River in and near the city of Santiago in the Cibao Valley. My host agency was a local NGO, Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral (APEDI), and my faithful guide was Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) field officer, José Alejandro Almodóvar Gómez.
The Yaque del Norte is the longest river on the island of Hispaniola. Extending for more than 200 km, the river originates in the high mountains of the Cordillera Central of the Dominican Republic and discharges in the northwest of the country not far from Haitian border. Santiago is the second largest city in the country and is located at the midpoint along the Yaque del Norte. In 2004, with support from a Fulbright Scholar program grant, I established a series of water quality sampling stations along the entire length of the Yaque del Norte River and so I was fortunate to have had prior experience in the region and of having established a record of baseline data. The Arroyo Gurabo stream is a major tributary originating in the Cordillera Septentrional, a mountain chain that forms the northern boundary of the Cibao Valley. The stream is formed by a series of springs at about 800 meters in elevation, and eventually discharges into the Yaque del Norte near downtown Santiago.
These springs all receive some sort of protection. At a minimum, the periphery of each is fenced off to protect them from livestock intrusion, at best, they are located in a heavily forested area, but that’s rare in this densely populated region. Descending from the mountains into the city, the stream edge, or the riparian zone, tends to be packed in with marginal communities of very poor residents who have, over time, settled here for lack of a better option. This is a common pattern along most streams running through Santiago.
Generally, residents must discharge their untreated wastewater into the stream. The stream also serves as a garbage dump as evidenced by the accumulation of solid waste ranging from plastics, to paper, to assorted construction debris. During flood events, which are not uncommon, the stream banks are undermined, destroying structures that have been built up over time. The loss of natural vegetation to absorb high water episodes is an endless cycle of stream bed widening that can seem hopeless to control.
My culminating experience was a full day of dialogue and a water quality workshop well attended by APEDI colleagues and local community leaders from the upper Arroyo Gurabo watershed. I feel that my major contribution was to introduce the idea that inhabitants of the region should expand their vision of preserving water quality and water quantity to satisfy needs of human inhabitants and begin to consider the needs of the entire aquatic ecosystem.
Often, we think of the health of the environment by observing the terrestrial vegetation only and ignoring what’s in the water, what’s below the surface. Perhaps this is because it’s harder to see life in the water than on the land. But if we are good stewards of the land and the water, we will not only have a safe and reliable water supply, but we will have excellent conditions to sustain aquatic plants and animals; animals such as fish, amphibians, and all sorts of invertebrates that are important in the aquatic food web. These two aspects, satisfying human needs for clean fresh water and satisfying the minimum needs of aquatic organisms, are interdependent. One depends on the other. To accomplish this, I suggested that actions be taken to engage children in the activity of monitoring Arroyo Gurabo stream health. This could be accomplished by incorporating stream studies into school curriculum. Take the kids out to the stream and let them have fun. They’ll begin to appreciate their water source in all its aspects and likely train their families to think and take action similarly.