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World Water Day: IAEA Project Strengthens Control of Water Quality in the Zamora River, Ecuador

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The Bombuscaro River, an important tributary of the Zamora River, located in Ecuador’s Zamora-Chinchipe Province. (Photo: A. Neild)

Southeast Ecuador is home to a constellation of copper and gold mines, which have sustained economic activity in the region for decades. The Zamora River — which passes through the area before emptying into the Santiago River — has felt the effects of the nearby mining activities and, as a result, the quality of its water has suffered dramatically. Following the implementation of a national technical cooperation (TC) project[1], Ecuador’s Water Secretariat (SENAGUA) has used the training and specialized equipment it received through IAEA support to implement strategies which are improving the conservation of the entire Zamora River Basin. From 1 to 5 July, a final Expert Mission will take place to review and substantiate the hydrological data collected by SENAGUA, validating Ecuador’s capacities to effectively monitor and manage local groundwater resources.

Launched in 2016, the TC project was designed to deliver support to the Water Secretariat across a variety of categories. A liquid water isotope spectrometer was provided by the Agency to support the analysis of stable water isotopes in the river and in nearby groundwater sources. This type of isotopic data provides hydrological information which is critical for the characterization of water quality, quantity and its historical movement. Hydrological data also reveals details related to the basin’s water cycle, such as its recharge rate and the interaction between surface and groundwater sources – essential data for sustainable water- and land-use policies.

Dazhu Yang, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation, meets with Technical Undersecretary of Water Resources Diana Ulloa to review the recent achievements of the national project. (Photo: SENAGUA)

The IAEA also reinforced Ecuador’s human resource capacity to apply isotope hydrology and related nuclear techniques, by training more than 25 technical staff from SENAGUA as well as over 100 students and professors from the Amazon Regional University (IKIAM) in their use for the monitoring of mining activities and their effects on water resources.

From 13 to 16 March, Dazhu Yang, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Technical Cooperation, conducted an official visit to Quito, Ecuador to review the status and progress of Agency efforts in the country. As part of his visit, Mr Yang met with Technical Undersecretary of Water Resources Diana Ulloa and Evelyn Adriana Mina, a Water Quality Management Analysist at SENAGUA, to discuss the skills or capacity gaps still remaining to be addressed in the area of water resource management.

Committed to promoting South-South cooperation, the IAEA also facilitated close cooperation between SENAGUA with the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) in Ecuador. PAHO provided support by validating information gathered from 57 field monitoring points—installed by the IAEA and maintained by SENAGUA—while SENAGUA, in turn, provided PAHO with primary data on the Zamora River Basin, which will subsequently be used for the implementation of PAHO’s ‘Safe Water Plan.’ This complementary sequence of activities—from the IAEA’s technical support to the PAHO’s policy-making support—demonstrates the Agency’s emphasis on identifying and leveraging regional synergies, particularly with United Nations agencies, in order to contribute to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As a result of both the IAEA’s training course and the cooperation with PAHO, SENAGUA was able to collect, integrate and validate information collected from the Zamora River, which will facilitate the characterization of the Zamora River Basin and will support decision-makers as they institute new policies to manage the precious groundwater resources.
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[1] ECU/7/007, ‘Strengthening the Management and Water Quality Control of the Zamora River Basin through the Application of Isotope Techniques’

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