Sunday, January 23, 2011

Greening the Desert

Before and after for Geoff Lawton's desert rainwater collection project

           The great thing about having a passionate interest is friends send you things about the topic. So the water stories keep pouring in! My friend Ingrid in Vancouver sent this terrific link about greening the desert. It’s an amazing, optimistic story about creating plants and growth in utterly arid, saline  desert  simply by collecting rainwater and planting properly. 

         Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Institute of Australia describes the process in this brilliant 5 min. video on Youtube.

A must see!

Visit the Permaculture institute of Australia site at:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Nathalia's Water Stories in Mexico

Yelapa view          Photo by Mara Alper

           Nathalia tells me several water stories. I’ll start with the one most likely to happen. Here in Yelapa at Los Narajos Guest House where she lives with her husband, Jarrett, she hopes to create both a rain water storage system and a water filtration system using constructed wetlands to create grey water suitable for watering the beautiful, extensive gardens on the land. The plan she draws for me is simple yet impressive.
          She recommends Natural Systems International as a resource @ )Turns out they built the constructed wetlands at Omega Institute that I've seen in Rhinebeck, NY. See a video about it on Vimeo at
Source: Natural Systems International

            Natalia is a civil engineer in her late 20s, trained in Guadalajara. She first came to Yelapa hired by a well-known firm to consult about building a sewage system in this small village on the Pacific. After several months, it became clear to her that people wanted a reliable water system to replace the black hoses they run up the town waterfall for their water source. Up to thirty hoses cascade over the waterfall edge, a parody of what a fall should be. Sorry I didn’t get photo of it myself to show you.
              The townspeople wanted an effective water delivery system more than they wanted the sewage system. When Natalia heard there was a plan to bury the electric wires for the electricity brought here only seven years ago, she realized it would make sense to bury the sewer system and water pipes at the same time in the same place to save future money and time.
              She talked to the local government and suggested this unified plan. When word got to his government superior, she was contacted and told to stay out of it. Instead they buried the electrical lines, and left both the sewer and the water lines undone.
                That’s all I’ll say about this saga right now. Suffice it to say, this bright, young woman civil engineer saw a reasonable solution and was told to keep it to herself. Frustration is too mild a word. The town still has uses only the black hoses from the waterfall or from springs up the mountains although it is growing in population and the summer rains are not necessarily reliable as climate shifts.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Aquaponic Possibilities


          Klim  Datsyute is a young Russian permaculturist who lives in the US and studied in Australia. He  came to Mexico to build  a an aquaponic system, where vegetables are grown in water pumped from a fish pond. It is a symbiotic system, because the plants benefit from the fish waste and the fish eat the plant waste, creating a circle of mutually beneficial growth. It is supposed to be funded through a grant from Hidalgo State, an area north of Mexico City. Now, three months later, they are still waiting to start because the money hasn’t materialized, though it is promised each month. They begin to wonder if it ever will. Let's hope it does for this worthy idea.

For more information on aquaponics visit and the  Permaculture Institute.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rory & the Bella Coola Salmon Hatchery

Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada
           When Rory Villars isn’t staying warm in Mexico in the winter, he lives up north in the small village of Bella Coola, BC. He has lived there many years, a minority among the native group. They are increasing the salmon population very effectively with a Japanese technique. They harvest the salmon roe, fertilize them, then raise them in incubators until they are ready for the sea. Instead of few salmon surviving the drought years, the number of salmon has increased dramatically since they began this practice. Chum, Chinook and Sockeye are all thriving under their care. Alaskans are even paying them for raising the salmon yield.

A very positive fish tale. Visit Bella Coola Salmon Hatchery site at: Bella Coola Salmon Hatchery

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Water in A Mexican Village

Yelapa view       Photo by Mara Alper
             I awake in the jungle,. Stunning yellow birds sing in trees outside my thatched palapa. I am home. This is my green paradise, warm and  fecund. The morning clouds here on the Pacific coast of Mexico are not like those at home. Within their transparency, swirls in a whirlpool, diaphanous and light. They dissolve into blue within moments.
            The water stories here are different. An old system of black hoses come down the mountains in a gravity feed. Water pumps have appeared in people’s homes, hose into the ground, a pump on a makeshift wooden stand, hose up to the house. It works most of the time.
Water lines in Yelapa    Photo by Mara Alper

Water filter    Photo by Mara Alper

Water pump        Photo by Mara Alper
             Large blue pipes were added a few years ago when water was scarcer for several years, dry brown winters. This year it is green again, with 90 inches of rain this summer. Water flows freely from the faucets, no heed to conservation, minimal water storage for a non-rainy day.
            The Río Tuito flows through town, deceptively clear like most water, yet laden with bacteria that kill and parasites that disrupt.  This is a deep problem with water; it’s apparent clarity masks our impact on it.

Matt from Pisota        Photo by Mara Alper
            Matt from Pisota tells me about the family he married into, fisherman running out of fish. They go out in their small boats each morning and return with fewer fish each day. They tell about how the big fleets over fish and waste much. When they catch shrimp, hundreds of baby fish are caught in the nets and killed, but not eaten.
            I think of all the shrimp from Mexico I’ve bought over the years, never knowing. Now that I know, what can I do? A question to ask more often.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Grids & Curves

Río Tuito, Yelapa, Mexico       Photo by: Mara Alper

             Flying across our country, I am struck by the contrast between the grids of cities and farmland, and the curves of billowing clouds.  Rectilinear culture is alien to me. Instead, I seek curvilinear places that follow the rivers edge, the ocean’s shore, the jagged curves of mountains, smooth curved hills. My flesh echoes these forms. Are there any rectangles in my body? I attempt a right angle at my elbow and knee, but they turn a smooth corner, the muscles round the skin. I am shaped like water, by water, curvilinear. We all are.
            The rectilinear world does not heed water unless it must and even then, it loves straight canals and dams that span rough rivers and amorphous lakes like a straight edged ruler, restraining the flow, constraining the natural curves.
            Is this the way we lost touch with water? Imposed a grid on it? The curved faucets and spigots that gracefully bring us water are the last curve in the rectangles, the only curving flow within our solid right-angled homes.
            The more curving forms a culture honors, the more it honors water. Angular cultures are dominating cultures, subduing the curves of life into manageable linear forms – rivers diverted to flat dams, mountain tops flattened by mining. Defying and containing elements that appear chaotic, but are really quite orderly within their own flowing form.
            The science of chaos is about the deep order that linear systems don’t acknowledge. Modern science has ruled out whatever does not fit elegant equations. Yet the science of chaos reveals that the tiny increments dismissed by linear thought make tremendous differences. What grid lovers see as chaos is actually a complex system with its own elegant, elusive order.
            The clouds, mountains, water and human emotions all fit the chaos paradigm, confounding the world of grids.

Visit for more info.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Water in the Sky

Cloud in Mexico        Photo: Mara Alper
           What are clouds but water in the sky? Their constant shape shifting and motion fascinate me. They give advance notice of the weather, augur change. Many farmers understand how clouds and winds reveal the coming weather. I learn from them.
            These water vapors glide across the earth, no boundaries, no countries, only one planet to roam, formed and transformed by wind and water.  They may well be the most flexible form we know, mutable with every moment.
            Clouds soothe me. I can look up at the sky any time and be lost in the stories they tell. Where they come from, what shape they are each passing moment – like Hamlet, I see their creature forms. Once, after a difficult journey, strained from fear and fatigue, I looked up and saw the clouds in a perfect dragon shape, saying: be not afraid. I was calmed.

Visit for more info. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Water & You


Two questions for you:
In a normal day, how often do you appreciate and respect water?

How often do you take water for granted?

We know the answer.

It’s so easy, too easy. We turn on the tap and there it is.

Where there is a faucet, there is wasted water.

It’s wasted because we’re not carrying it from wells that are far away, everyday, several times a day – a task generally done by women. You use water differently when you have to carry it. Anyone who goes camping knows this.

 A fine piece of video journalism on Current TV does a great job of showing this. The reporter makes herself live on the same amount of water a person in a water scarce country would use each day for a week as she goes about her daily routines in her London home.

See for yourself at: "My Week Without Water"

After you watch, you can calculate your own water footprint at "Calculate Your Water Footprint"

Visit again for more ways to re-imagine water.

Visit for more info. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Re-Imagining Water

Ashokan Reservoir/New York State       Photo by Mara Alper

Today is a day for new beginnings: 1/1/11
Here's to a fresh start with our relationship with water.

We are born of water.

We are surrounded by water
            in clouds,
            in oceans, rivers, and earth
            in every breath we take.

We are water.

And yet we take it for granted.

It is time for us to re-imagine water as the precious gift it is – the essence of our planet and of our bodies. The poetics and the politics of water can reconnect us to this essential resource.
There is nothing like water.
It is what makes the planet we call home unique.

Visit for more info.