Rainwater collection makes a big difference in Mexico

Rainwater collection makes a big difference in Mexico
By Jason Todd Berner
March 21, 2014

For my entire career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency I have focused on storm water management needs, ostensibly for municipalities and local communities: how to harvest rainwater and how to use technology protect water resources. But instead of working on this smaller scale, I found myself working primarily on a national scale.

Finally, I decided it was time for a big change that focused on small communities.

As I pursued opportunities at EPA to work more directly with local communities, I found I loved that type of work whenever I got a chance to do it. I learned of the Peace Corps Response program and its projects on water resources management and engineering a couple summers ago. The EPA and Peace Corps had an agreement that supported EPA employees working as Peace Corps Response Volunteers so I applied for a rainwater harvesting engineering position in Puebla, Mexico. It was exactly what I was looking for and the length of the project was similar to temporary reassignments at EPA. Plus, I could bring my Response Volunteer ground implementation experiences back to EPA.

I now work at a state technology institute in Zacatlan, Mexico, to train students, faculty and maintenance staff on how to design, construct and maintain rainwater harvesting cistern systems for on-campus buildings.

In Zacatlan there is abundant rainfall, but few people are using it for non-potable, or non-consumption, uses. Deforestation from timber harvesting and mining activities has caused soil erosion in the drinking watershed, and the local drinking water utility is worried about annual decreases in rainfall captured for potable water uses – especially as Zacatlan’s population grows.

The state technology institute I work at has great interests in harvesting rainwater for non-potable uses – such as flushing toilets, bathroom sinks and irrigating plants – because it is one of the largest users of potable water in town. The photo above is of the proud team of students, faculty and maintenance staff after installing their first on-campus rainwater harvesting system for non-potable uses.

I’m very excited that my training on implementing rainwater harvesting systems at the university and primary schools will have an impact even after I've returned to work at EPA. I have learned a lot through teaching in both the university and rural residential settings. I hope to keep enjoying opportunities to implement local rainwater harvesting projects both abroad and in the U.S. after I've finished my PCR project.

Jason Todd Berner