Recovering the ancestral water system of Los Paltas with ecohydrological approach to supply water to the city of Catacocha in southern Ecuador




Demosite Location
Demosite Location


Demosite Location

Information about lithology/geochemistry:

Most of the soils are shallow red colored, clayey with presence of Fe and Al oxides, with characteristics of dry soils.

Main Description

  • The San Pedro Mártir microbasin is located in the Paltas canton, in southern Ecuador. It has a total surface of 31 km2 and provides 70% of water to the city of Catacocha.
  • The ancestral hydrological system of the Paltas based on lentic wetlands (albarradas) and small dams (tajamares) to recharge the aquifers was abandoned by the Spanish colonists and local people to use the land for livestock and agriculture.
  • The restauration of the ancestral knowledge and watershed management, has allowed to improve the water supply from 1 to 6 hours per day.
  • Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (Ecuador - Peru) UNESCO Forests of Peace Catacocha is a Cultural Heritage of Ecuador. The management model won the First Place of the Green Award from the Ecuadorian Development Bank in 2017.

Conserve Ecohydrological processes in natural ecosystem


Enhance ecohydrological processes in novel ecosystem


Apply complementary Ecohydrological processes in high impacted system


This table presents the different categories of ecosystem services that ecosystem can provide, divided in:

Provisioning Services are ecosystem services that describe the material or energy outputs from ecosystems. They include food, water and other resources.

Raw materials: Ecosystems provide a great diversity of materials for construction and fuel including wood, biofuels and plant oils that are directly derived from wild and cultivated plant species.

Fresh water: Ecosystems play a vital role in the global hydrological cycle, as they regulate the flow and purification of water. Vegetation and forests influence the quantity of water available locally.

Regulating Services are the services that ecosystems provide by acting as regulators eg. regulating the quality of air and soil or by providing flood and disease control.

Moderation of extreme events: Extreme weather events or natural hazards include floods, storms, tsunamis, avalanches and landslides. Ecosystems and living organisms create buffers against natural disasters, thereby preventing possible damage. For example, wetlands can soak up flood water whilst trees can stabilize slopes. Coral reefs and mangroves help protect coastlines from storm damage.

Erosion prevention and maintenance of soil fertility: Soil erosion is a key factor in the process of land degradation and desertification. Vegetation cover provides a vital regulating service by preventing soil erosion. Soil fertility is essential for plant growth and agriculture and well functioning ecosystems supply the soil with nutrients required to support plant growth.

Pollination: Insects and wind pollinate plants and trees which is essential for the development of fruits, vegetables and seeds. Animal pollination is an ecosystem service mainly provided by insects but also by some birds and bats. Some 87 out of the 115 leading global food crops depend upon animal pollination including important cash crops such as cocoa and coffee (Klein et al. 2007).

Ecosystem services "that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services". These include services such as nutrient recycling, primary production and soil formation.

Habitats for species: Habitats provide everything that an individual plant or animal needs to survive: food; water; and shelter. Each ecosystem provides different habitats that can be essential for a species’ lifecycle. Migratory species including birds, fish, mammals and insects all depend upon different ecosystems during their movements.

Cultural Services corresponds nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences.

Tourism: Ecosystems and biodiversity play an important role for many kinds of tourism which in turn provides considerable economic benefits and is a vital source of income for many countries. In 2008 global earnings from tourism summed up to US$ 944 billion. Cultural and eco-tourism can also educate people about the importance of biological diversity.

Aesthetic appreciation and inspiration for culture, art and design: Language, knowledge and the natural environment have been intimately related throughout human history. Biodiversity, ecosystems and natural landscapes have been the source of inspiration for much of our art, culture and increasingly for science.


Demosite Location
Life zone
Lower montane
Dry Scrub

PPT(mm/yr): 846.0

T(ºc): 18.2

Elevation of demosite: 1800.0 meters above sea level
Humidity: Semi-Arid
PETr (by year): 0.14

EH Principles

Quantification of the hydrological processes at catchment scale and mapping the impacts

Distribution of ecosystems and their relevant processes (ex: metabolism=water and nutrient uptake and retention; biomass production)

Ecological engineering (integration, dual regulation and biotechnologies in catchment scale for enhancement of ecological potential)


Restoration and conservation of ecosystems through the recovery of vegetation cover


Creation of dams in streams (tajamares) to reduce runoff

Hydrological Flow

Restoration of old and creation of new lentic wetlands (albarradas) for aquifers recharge

Ecohydrological Infrastructure

Major Issues

  • Average rainfall between December and April and low between May and November
  • The small amount of water collected is used to supply Catacocha, irrigation and grazing
  • Land use change to pasture soils prevent the retention of water in the soil
  • Due to the inclination of the soil, runoff is accelerated and the recharge of aquifers is limited
Which: Limited aquifers recharge

Social ecohydrological system

EH Objectives

Cultural Heritage

EH Methodology

  • Development of albarradas and tajamares to reduce runoff in the microbasin and ensure aquifers recharge

  • Recovery of vegetal ground cover and use of aquatic plants in albarradas to avoid excessive evapo-transpiration

  • Involvement of all stakeholders in water resources management efforts with an ecohydrological approach

  • Recovery of the capacity of the aquifer to self-recharge

  • Recovery of the ancestral knowledge of local aborigines in water management

Catchment Ecohydrological sub-system


  • Create vegetation areas for protection of sources and tourism

  • To maintain new restored EH conditions

  • To increase aquifers recharge

  • To recover environmental services from conserved and restored areas

  • Stakeholders

  • Paltas Municipality


  • NGO’s (Naturaleza y Cultura Internacional, NCI and Comunidades y Desarrollo Local, COMUNIDEC)

  • Escuela del Agua (SENAGUA Initiative) Students clubs from Local High Schools

  • Civil society associations such as farmers, citizens, etc.

  • Universities and private research companies

  • Catchment Sociological sub-system


    • Technical and scientific monitoring of the current water system

    • Construction of new albarradas and tajamares

    • Perform hydrologic models to quantify the relationship of watershed management and the availability of Water Resources

    • Increase vegetation cover with plants suitable for ecosystems, to decrease evapotranspiration rate, conserve moisture and protect slopes

    Expected Outcomes

    • Improve management human resources capacity and ensure the availability of water especially during the low water level season

    • Recover the ancestral technologies in water use

    Latest Results

    • The availability of water for the inhabitants of Catachocha was improved from 1 to 6 hours / day

    • The adequate management of the reserve has allowed the different stakeholders and users of the basin's resources are integrated into this initiative and the model has been replicated nationally and internationally


    Marco Albarracín




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