The PARA-Agua Project

A multi-year collaboration among international organizations, industry, and the U.S. government is underway to help communities in the Latin America and Caribbean region strengthen watershed resilience against the impacts of climate change.

  

By Christine Pendzich, Aaron Weieneth, AICP, and Kena Vasquez 

 


PARA-Agua ProjectCommunities downstream of the Andes Mountains depend on receding glaciers for potable water, agriculture and hydropower. The PARA-Agua project, developed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is helping Latin America and Caribbean communities develop approaches to increase adaptation to climate change impacts through improved watershed management. PHOTOS COURTESY AECOM


 

 

In the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, climate change is negatively impacting water resources, agriculture and ecosystems. Increasing temperatures are altering hydrological cycles, affecting crop productivity and biodiversity, and causing more frequent and extreme weather events, which has led to flooding and drought.

Andean glaciers, a vital source of fresh­water for tens of millions of people, are under severe threat. Downstream commu­nities depend on shrinking glaciers for potable water, agriculture and hydropower. But there is no scientific consensus on the extent of exact mechanisms in determin­ing downstream impacts. Policymakers, researchers and water resources managers across LAC urgently need assistance linking the best climate science on glaciers to water management decisions.

 

USAID RESPONSE

To help support these challenges, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Regional Sustainability Development of the LAC Bureau has developed the Partnering for Adaptation and Resilience – Agua (PARA-Agua), or “For Water,” project. It is an initiative that is bringing together scientists, decision-makers and communities across the LAC region to strengthen resilience to climate change through better understanding of climate impacts on key water resources.

USAID administers the United States’ foreign assistance program, providing economic and humanitarian assistance in over 80 countries worldwide. The PARA-Agua project is being implemented by AECOM along with The Mountain Institute, Stockholm Environment Institute, and other research institutions, including the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

 

WATERSHED-FOCUSED APPROACH

In coordination with USAID bilateral programs and priorities, the AECOM team is working in target watersheds to under­take several actions and initiatives. 

  • Create platforms for sustained dialogue and information sharing between the research community, policymakers, watershed stakeholders and the private sector to help mainstream the use of relevant scientific data.
  • Conduct stakeholder mapping for each watershed to determine key actors and relations, and facilitate the participation of women and disadvantaged groups.
  • Employ a Water Evaluation and Planning (WEAP) model, which is a Windows-based decision support system for integrated water resources manage­ment and policy analysis, to enable the integrated assessment of climate change impacts on watershed dynamics within a single decision support framework.
  • Identify structural and non-structural adaptation options and facilitate access to finances to support implementation.
  • Replicate best practices and build capac­ity through improved data sharing tools, twinning partnerships and other tools.

 

PRINCIPAL ACTIVITIES

The PARA-Agua project includes three primary tasks: 

  • Enhance the research community’s capacity to generate policy-oriented data on watershed management and climate change adaptation.
  • Mainstream and integrate climate data into decision-making related to water­shed management.
  • Strengthen planning systems that opti­mize water use across the full length of watersheds in the context of climate change adaptation. The PARA-Agua project is applying a fully integrated, watershed-focused approach that links all project tasks in a continuous cycle, creating outcomes on the ground. In particular, the work is creating linkages between research activities and watersheds to mainstream resulting research data into policymaker and community dialogue and decision-making.

Simultaneously, the project will facilitate connections between watershed stakehold­ers in relation to water resources planning, resulting in adaptation interventions.

 

COOPERATION AND PARTNERSHIPS

The PARA-Agua project is employing regional cooperation and sustainability approaches that share experience across the region and leverage partner cost share. Through twinning partnerships, commu­nities of practices and other approaches, PARA-Agua is facilitating peer-to-peer learning to replicate best practices in watershed management and climate change adaptation. Twinning originated in post- World War II Europe as countries and cities rebuilt using a “town twinning” model supported by various regional organizations to promote utility and peace.

Twinning has since expanded to a variety of sectors and entities, including universi­ties, utilities and public agencies. USAID has implemented twinning in its programs as a flexible peer-to-peer learning approach to bring knowledge and experience using best practices implemented by city leaders and utility managers to support implemen­tation of activities.

Each twinning partnership will include a range of activities (information exchange, hands-on or classroom training, and technology demonstration) that result in measurable outcomes for improved capac­ity, adoption of new tools and methodolo­gies, and more resilient communities.

PARA-Agua ProjectThe PARA-Agua project involves scientists, decision-makers and communities across the Latin America and Caribbean region. The approach employs regional cooperation and sustainability approaches that share experience across the region and leverage partner cost share.


 

ACTIVITIES IN FY2014

During FY2014, efforts began to support climate-informed water management and adaptation decision-making in the Chira- Piura and Chinchina basins located in Peru and Colombia. Initial activities included a comprehensive actor-mapping effort that would identify and confirm relevant stakeholders essential for effective water resources management and decision-making.

The project team assembled stakeholders at both watersheds for consul­tations on current planning instruments in the watershed to position efforts in the context of relevant national and basin-specific priorities. Information and specific data collected through several consultation meetings informed the development of the WEAP model for both watersheds. Regional climate projection data for incorporation into the models was sourced from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The PARA-Agua team also currently is providing hands-on training on WEAP-model utilization in the two basins to develop a cadre of managers and technical staff within key watershed organizations who are capable of employing the model to support planning and decision-making in the context of climate change adaptation. The team also has initiated evaluations to support watershed-level investments in the face of climate change.

At a regional level, the team carried out multiple surveys, interviews and consulta­tion workshops to develop a gap analysis. The work identifies specific capacity needs and priority areas to strengthen the ability of selected research institutions to generate policy-oriented data on watershed manage­ment and climate change adaptation.

The PARA-Agua project will develop training programs and toolkits—and facili­tate a community of practice for dissemina­tion and replication of best practices related to watershed management and climate change adaptation.

 

EXPECTED OUTCOMES

The PARA-Agua project is expected to have several meaningful outcomes that will aid the LAC region in planning for climate change and protecting its water supplies. 

  • Improved understanding of climate change impacts on watershed function, including mountainous water supplies.
  • New climate adaptation tools, technolo­gies and methodologies developed and used by policymakers and communities.
  • New networks and mechanisms for data sharing between researchers, policy­makers, and watershed stakeholders on climate change adaptation.
  • Increased participation by local commu­nities, including women and disad­vantaged populations, in developing climate change adaptation and watershed management solutions.
  • Increased investment in climate resilient infrastructure and non-structural adap­tation interventions in target watersheds.
  • Establishment of legacy organizations to continue project activities.

The PARA-Agua project was initiated in fall 2013 and will be implemented over the course of two to four years, depend­ing on funding availability. Ultimately, the work will help regions develop innova­tive approaches to increase adaptation to climate change impacts through improved watershed management.

 


 

Christine Pendzich is Climate Change and Clean Energy Advisor, U.S. Agency for International Development; 202-712-5857, or cpendzich@ usaid.gov.

Aaron Weieneth, AICP, is Project Manager and Environmental Planner, and Kena Vasquez, is Program Manager, AECOM. They can be reached at 781-224-6222 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; and 703-528-7444 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., respectively.