The Environment
Cultivating Good Water expands results in 2007
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29/11/2007

The Cultivating Good Water program, which has Itaipu Binacional as its anchor-institution and is carried out by 1,700 organizations (governmental, NGOs, city administrations, teaching institutions, community associations, and companies) in Western Paraná, is celebrating increased results in 2007. The program was evaluated at its fourth annual meeting, which ended yesterday, Friday, at the Foz do Iguaçu Convention Center. The event was attended by nearly 3 thousand people. There will be additional activities this Saturday, namely the Local Environmental Conference and the 4th Organic Fair.

 

One of the main results accomplished this year is the expansion in the program's coverage, which late in 2006 included 29 micro-basins in the Paraná River Basin 3 (comprising Paraná River tributaries in the power plant's reservoir area). Today there are 59 micro-basins served with initiatives geared towards bringing their environmental liabilities down to zero. Because farming is a major economic activity in this area (especially pig and dairy farming), most projects focus on making adjustments to farms in order to prevent river pollution.

 

To Jorge Samek, Itaipu's Brazilian general-director, the success of these efforts lies exactly on their large number of partnerships. "This is the only way to advance projects like the distributed generation, which allows pig farmers, for instance, to use pig farming waste to generate electricity. Instead of polluting rivers, farmers become independent energy-wise", says the director, citing a project currently under implementation in collaboration with Copel and Eletrobrás.

 

In 2007, the Cultivating Good Water program reached the mark of 253 kilometers in country roads retrofitted since the program started in 2003. This retrofitting means more than just making roads more suitable for traffic. The installation of roadside ridges (a sort of lengthy speed bump) prevents rain water from flowing over to these roads. And the downgrade on the sides directs all the water towards crops. Otherwise, when roads are not adequate and it rains, besides there being soil erosion the rivers are filed with dirt and pesticides.

 

To protect the rivers, the program promotes the recovery of water-bordering vegetation and the construction of protective fences to prevent cattle from walking up to the banks. From 2003 to 2007, 2 million trees have been planted and 400 kilometers of fences have been built (40% this year alone). Farming-related initiatives also include free technical support for soil conservation (2,880 hectares so far), the installation of community water supply facilities (58 since the program started, some of them having been employed for public supply), and the proper disposal of 443 tons of pesticide containers ".

 

In addition to their quantitative scope, the results also have a qualitative magnitude measured in terms of the new relationship people have developed with the environment. This turns Cultivating Good Water into more than just a program, it becomes a veritable crusade", says Nelton Friedrich, Itaipu's Coordination and Environmental director.

 

The farm-retrofitting work starts with a visit from students attending partner universities. Supervised by their professors, the students perform a preliminary diagnosis of environmental liabilities. Until November, 3,005 farms had their environmental control projects set up free of charge. Another 3,000 projects are expected to be designed next year. With such a project in their hands, farmers can apply for an environmental license at the Environmental Institute of Paraná (IAP), which establishes a timeframe for them to recover their liabilities. "The time farmers are given to solve these problems depends on the kind of action required. When it is a matter of legal reserves or rehabilitation of water-bordering vegetation, it is simple. On the other hand, if they have to relocate a pigsty, which is more complex, then they are granted more time", explains Adir Airton Parizotto, head of the local office of the State Department for the Environment.

 

According to him, the methods employed at the Paraná River Basin 3 are different from everything that is done in other areas in the state. This has allowed environmental issues to be solved faster than in other areas. The Paraná State Government, for instance, has established 90 million seedlings have to be planted to recover water-bordering vegetation across Paraná. At the Paraná River Basin 3, the local goal has been exceeded in 30% thanks to the help from the Cultivating Good Water program. "Another unique feature is environmental education, which has been boosted by the program. We offer long-term programs like FEA, which is 800 class hours long and has prepared 250 educators to date. There are also shorter programs dedicated, for instance, to public school teachers", notes Parizotto.

 

An important contribution from the Cultivating Good Water program to local environmental awareness raising regards the way trash is disposed of. Before, there was hardly any separation of organic recyclable materials. Recycling at the Paraná River Basin 3 has increased from 140,000 tons/day in 2003 to over 600,000 today. Through the Outreaching Trash Collection project, Itaipu has helped trash pickers organize cooperatives and consequently improve their monthly income. "Many city administrations were unable to set up separate trash collection programs on their own, but the program has provided overalls, carts, and full support for them to organize the activity. Progress would have been much slower had they had help solely from the state", adds Parizotto.

 

Another sign of the evolution generated by the program is the practice of organic agriculture, which today involves 800 local farmers. Through educational programs and sales support, they have the opportunity to sell their production at fairs and to city administrations, which will later include such products in school meals. Farmer Luiz Antônio Arruda from São Miguel do Iguaçu, for example, converted his farm into organic agriculture because he could no longer bear dealing with pesticides.  In addition to health issues, he was having trouble making a living from conventional agriculture, especially given its dependence on inputs.

 

Today, Arruda grows cucumbers, coffee, Barbados cherry, guava, and pineapples, among other produce, which are certified by Rede Ecovida. The technical support he gets from Cultivating Good Water personnel has allowed him to enhance his business via some product processing, and his income has nearly tripled. Moreover, the green farm concept has let him expand his business horizons into country tourism. "I wouldn't trade the quality of life we enjoy today for anything else under the sun", he asserts.

 

To Odacir Fiorentin, the program's executive manager, 2007 is the year when Cultivating Good Water methods have been cemented at the Paraná River Basin 3. The idea is that cities and communities take on the commitment of caring for the environment so that the initiatives can survive in the long run, regardless of Itaipu's participation. "Proving this commitment is the fact that some city administrations have entered into agreements to bring environmental liabilities down to zero in 100% of the micro-basins", he says.

 

The methods include selecting the micro-basins, engaging the communities, setting up Micro-Basin Committees, carrying out environmental education programs, establishing agreements with partners, and finding financial support to help farms, companies and factories decrease their environmental liabilities. Additionally, communities pledge their commitment to the Water Pact and the Local Agenda 21.

 

Some of the cities working towards bringing 100% of their environmental liabilities down to zero are Itaipulândia, Santa Terezinha de Itaipu, Pato Bragado, and Entre Rios do Oeste. Itaipulândia, one of those spearheading the process, should close 2008 as a model of environmental management, with all its farms operating without damaging the environment.

 

Another success story comes from the city of Mercedes, where the water supply source was on the verge of collapsing. Program technicians estimated that the supply would last for another year, at most. The Micro-Basin Committee negotiated with local factories polluting the springs and talked them into treating their waste water. Once the process is completed, it is now estimated that the city's water supply will be ensured for another 20 years.

 

To handle all the activities at the 59 micro-basins in Western Paraná, Itaipu has altered the way it operates in the environmental realm. The annual budget for the Coordination and Environmental Administration, which had always been US$ 8 million, has been tripled, as follows: the binational company contributes 33% of the funds; cities, with another 33%; and the remaining third is funded by farmers and other community players. "A very positive factor of the Cultivating Good Water is that the program doesn't serve only cities surrounding the reservoir, but reaches over to the tributaries' headwaters", says Rogério Felini Pasquetti, mayor of Céu Azul, a city where the Cultivating Good Water program has enabled the installation of a sewer system. "By combining agriculture with environmental conservation techniques we are ensuring we'll have clean water and sustainability in the future ".

 

Keeping in mind the notion that in order to love one must know first, the program provides school students with waterway maps containing the names of all springs, streams, and rivers, and also promotes field trips to such locations. When a spring has no name, campaigns are held to christen it. Having operated like this for over four years, the program has created curious situations, such as bringing Catholics and Protestants together for the Fraternity Campaign (Water – Source of Life). "Environmental issues transcend creeds, social classes, genders. It concerns everyone", teaches Fiorentin.

 

The Cultivating Good Water program has been acknowledged as the most comprehensive environmental initiative by the Brazilian electricity industry and internationally awarded the Charter of the Earth by Unesco. It comprises 70 projects and 96 initiatives that start by addressing micro-basin rehabilitation, go on to the protection of woods and biodiversity, and all the way to the promotion of environmental education in the surrounding communities.

 

One of its projects has become a reference for the construction of hydroelectric power plants in Brazil. It is the Spawning Channel, which is 10 kilometers long and connects the Paraná River section located downstream from the dam to the plant's reservoir. The channel allows migrating fish to overcome the 120 meters difference in water levels between the two stretches of the river, thus helping protect biodiversity and improve fish genetics.

 

Another prominent feature comes from the field of woodland rehabilitation. Throughout the course of its history, Itaipu has planted 44 million trees on the Brazilian and Paraguayan riverbanks. The power plant's nurseries account for the annual production of approximately one million seedlings that will be planted along its biodiversity corridors (forests interconnecting environmental conservation areas) and riverside woodlands at local micro-basins. Overall, Itaipu protects 108,000 hectares of forests in its area of influence, divided into Reserves, Biological Sanctuaries, and the Reservoir Protection Strip.