Water saving experiences from arid regions in US might help Mongolia

WSCC ecologist Vandandorj Sumiya attended the International Watershed seminar which was held in Arizona, USA in April 2019. This is his records about this training and lessons that he brought back to Mongolia. He hopes that some of the wetland knowledge and experiences can be adopted to wetland management in Mongolia.

Last spring, I attended International Watershed Seminar organized by US Forest Service in Arizona, USA. It was a great chance to make friends, build network and share our experiences on watershed management. It was the most efficient and well organized training I have ever been to. I learnt that the US Forest Service has been developing and organizing this seminar for last ten years.

There were 22 young and senior researchers and wetland specialists who work on water and wetland conservation in 21 different countries in Asia, South America, Africa and Europe. We learnt a lot from the seminar lecturers, various stakeholders, organizers and participants. Seminar covered wetland ecosystem service, water saving techniques, water user responsibility, water related conflict solving, prevention from flood, restoration of watershed, and cooperation of NGOs, government and local community on integrated watershed management. It was amazing to see the best practices and great achievements on water related issues on the ground and meeting the people who are in charge of managing it.

One thing which is probably very straightforward, but I haven’t noticed is that head watershed area is mostly settled by rural community and due to their activities such as agriculture or farming the forest cover reduces, soil erosion and sediment increases, and it affects biodiversity which also leads to poor water quality and quantities for downstream water users who are generally urban population. In terms of addressing this issue, the model used in Arizona seems one of the best to me. According to their model, urban residents usually pay little extra on their monthly water bill and the accumulation from every water user allows to fund research and restoration projects and applying proper land use management by working with rural community in their relevant headwater region. In return the urban population that inhibit mid and downstream area can have good quality and plenty of water. However, it only works when there is a close cooperation among federal and local governments, NGOs, academicians, private sector, and the active participation and monitoring of all different of water user units or stakeholders. This is the most important take-away lesson for me from this seminar, because this is really critical for Mongolia. We have to start working together, otherwise it will be too late in Mongolia.

In Arizona, responsible urban citizens who live in houses do harvest rain water, store it in big underground containers. Then the collected water go through purifying system and becomes drinkable water. Another interesting practice was the use of microorganisms to decompose waste in the toilets. They have attached lavatory-pan on big plastic container, and after some finished using toilet they scatter sawdust and then spray little bit of water to provide moisture, which allows microorganisms to decompose the waste. Once the container is full, the lavatory-pan can be removed and attached to another empty container. Full containers can be kept for 6-12 months and until it is ready to be used as fertilizer for outside planting. I was amazed how the citizens were well aware of saving water and to see people living 100% independent from centralized water distribution or water treatment plants.

I watched people have high hope for better future over today’s consumption, such as recharging groundwater by building groundwater recharging ponds and restoring degraded lands and/or rivers from mining and other activities. So, we have to care about nature and sustainable use of natural resource, if we care our children.

Vandandorj Sumiya is a Leiden Conservation Foundation Fellow supported by the Leiden Conservation Foundation. He is an ecologist working on the White-naped crane conservation project to strengthen research and management of wetland habitat in the Khurkh and Khuiten River Valley.

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