By Yolanda Lopez Maldonado ~ "In Yucatan, Mexico, water demands are growing and inhabitants have to deal with many water-related problems. However for management purposes, groundwater data remains limited. The Yucatan is also an area of cultural and environmental significance due to the high number of water-oriented Mayan sacred natural sites. The Mayas developed a complex system of water management dependent on water collection and storage. The hydraulic system was tailored to the biophysical conditions and adaptively engineered to the evolving needs of growing populations. 

Hydrological approaches can greatly enhance our understanding of the hydrological cycle and provide an understanding of groundwater. However, due to the universality of water, I strongly believe that this is not only a question for science only; solutions should combine natural and social sciences with traditional ecological knowledge, which respects Mayan wisdom.

Groundwater represents an important life-sustaining resource; it feeds springs and streams and supports wetlands. In Yucatan no surface waters or rivers exist: instead there are groundwater caves, locally called cenotes (from the Mayan word ts’onot, sinkhole). Cenotes are the home of important species such as the Blind Fish (Ogilbia pearsei) and the Blind Swamp Eel (Ophisternon infernale), and they represent the main source of freshwater for human communities. Some environmental problems (such as wetland degradation, pollution and biodiversity loss) particularly affect the Ring of Cenote wetlands – an important groundwater system created by a meteorite  65 million years ago.

Developing actions with different stakeholder groups (policy-makers, NGOs and local communities), working on environmental activities with young people, for example through Cenote clean-ups and underwater exploration, and through cooperation, demonstrated that it is possible to work together for a better ecosystem. The obtained results were important in terms of environment and policy making implications since they can be used by the involved stakeholders to: i) identify the human induced flows affecting groundwater quality, ii) to monitor water availability and withdrawals, iii) to promote improved allocations between users, and iv) to stimulate water recycling, traditional rainwater harvesting practices and use efficiency.

Every culture, society or human being knows the importance of water. However, groundwater overexploitation is different from most commons dilemmas due to this universality and because the unprecedented scale at which our societies are changing the hydrological cycle. We are altering resident times of groundwater storage on aquifers, polluting and overexploiting groundwater so rapidly that the speed of the resource to self- regulate often overcomes the ability of users, and institutions, to respond effectively. Societies may be severely affected or even collapse if we do not understand these complexities. Furthermore, living in a period of uncertainty one problem when thinking about groundwater future is that there are many elements to consider; but after the solutions are developed, interactions between the water cycle and society occur and questions arise.

Results from this project can show how, in a transdisciplinary process, strategies to protect groundwater can be developed together. More than 50 actors from different disciplines and water related sectors (scientists, policy-makers, NGO’s, students, divers, and local members) were involved in the process. Data was collected through workshops, literature reviews, national and regional statistics, consultations, estimations, interviews and assumptions. To project work is directly related to the Sustainable Development Goal 6, and the results specifically support targets 6.3, 6.4, 6.5, and 6.6 (a & b) by: facilitating examination of hotspots of pollution, distribution of flows of hazardous substances, minimizing release of chemicals, ensuring sustainable withdrawals, revealing water extraction trends and sectors with major consumption, strengthen participation of local communities, and to protect the ecosystem. This can be used to address methodological challenges for monitoring and can contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Development Agenda."


This story was submitted by Yolanda Lopez-Maldonado, in response to IUCN's Water Flows Story competition - more here.  

More information on Yolanda's work can also be found here: link 1¦ link 2