SUMMARY: We are working for the widespread adoption of rainwater harvesting (RWH) in Mexico as a response to the worsening water crisis. We design and install RWH technology for low income, water stressed communities, and do education, training and outreach to promote and develop knowledge and capacity for RWH.
PROBLEM SPACE: Mexico City is in a state of deepening water crisis. 70% of our water comes from the intensively over-exploited aquifer below the city, with the rest being pumped over 1km uphill from watersheds outside. Over 30% of the water in the system is lost in leaks, and the torrential rains in the city saturate the sewage system, which overflows each year flooding low lying, impoverished areas. The water table is falling quickly and the city has sunk over 10 meters in the last 100 years due to excessive extraction. Already well over a million people get water only intermittently, and hundreds of thousands have no access to the grid at all. Rainwater is almost entirely channeled to the sewage and wasted, despite being so abundant that it can provide well over 600 liters a year for every square meter of roof, enough to give many families total water independence for half the year (often more). Currently, government proposals consist of plans to pump water to the city from far greater distances. We are working to demonstrate and teach how rain can be effectively captured, treated and stored to provide water sustainably and accessibly, beginning with the most water-stressed areas.
SOLUTION: Isla Urbana was founded in 2009 when a small team of designers, engineers and sociologists moved to a water scarce neighborhood in the south of Mexico City and began designing and installing RWH systems with the neighbors. The mostly self-built, low-income households there suffer chronic water shortages, subsisting with far less than the average supply enjoyed in wealthier areas. We started developing technologies to capture and treat rainwater in low and middle-income households, working with communities to understand how best to meet their needs, training local plumbers, and raising awareness about sustainability and the water crisis. Collaborating with various local governments, communities, and organizations we have been experimenting ways to establish and extend RWH more and more. We believe sustainable alternatives to the current model of water extraction must be developed and progressively spread through an organic process, based on designing context-viable technologies, applying them in places where water is a problem, working with the communities to transfer the know-how for RWH, and communicating and sharing the results to key people and the population at large. The benefits of RWH can thus be demonstrated and the practice extended further, integrating community work, technology, and education towards building a solution.
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