Mexico had its first national conference on rainwater harvesting Nov. 6-9 at the University of Guadalajara School of Architecture in Guadalajara, Mexico. The United States was represented by Central Indiana ASPE member and American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association past National President E.W. Bob Boulware, P.E, and Billy Kniffen, a retired water-resource specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

Nearly 300 adults and students attended the conference where international speakers addressed projects and rainwater-harvesting efforts in Germany, Columbia, Brazil, Japan and the U.S. Boulware recounted his work developing the ARCSA/ASPE/ANSI Standard 63 and 78 (beneficial use of rain and storm water) in the U.S., and how it might be applicable to the needs of Mexico.

Kniffen presented examples of applications in the U.S. related to the flooding and water issues in Mexico. He also recounted his success in training engineering students on skills needed to design and install a rainwater-harvesting system. In both cases the information was well received and became an ongoing topic of discussion.

On the second day of the conference, two special meetings were held and Kniffen and Boulware were invited to attend. In the first meeting, high-level city and state government officials from Mexico City and Guadalajara manufacturing representatives, and engineering department heads from the university were in attendance to determine how to develop technical requirements and building standards necessary for better storm and rainwater management.

The key issue in Guadalajara is the flooding as indicated by a meter (4 ft.) of water that commonly flows down the main street during a storm event. In Mexico City, the issue is the city sinking from the groundwater drawn from wells to supply the 21.3 million people who live and work in the region.

Mexico City officials also wanted to know how rainwater-harvesting could address water-quality issues — and the related health issues — from industrial contaminants in the water supply; and how it could be used to help the nearly 20 million people who get drinking water from the garrafón de agua, a five-gallon plastic jug, and the 9% of Mexico’s population who have no access to running water. At the conclusion of the meeting, a committee of professionals, educators and manufacturers (Rotoplas) volunteered to work on developing a rainwater-harvesting standard for Mexico.

A second meeting was held, with 60-80 people in attendance, for the purpose of organizing the national association – the Association Mexicana De Sistemas De Captacion De Agua De Lluvia (AMSCALL). The chief goal was to formalize the coordination with other international associations, including ARCSA, and how an interaction of ideas could lead to betterment for Mexico and the other Latin American countries facing water issues.

Committees were formed and chairmen and volunteer members were appointed to formalize the management, education, research, awareness and promotional components of the newly formed group. Dr. Arturo Gleason was elected to serve as its first national president.

Due to the success of the first national Mexican conference on rainwater harvesting, plans are being made for an international conference on rainwater harvesting in Brazil in March and a second Mexican national conference in 2019.


A closer look

The conference ended with an eye-opening tour of Guadalajara and the surrounding region. One of the stops was in the lower part of Guadalajara where a river of raw sewage flowed in an open drain and, combined with storm-water events, allowed sewage to flow untreated into the Santiago River. A huge industrial complex of more than 400 firms has been built around Guadalajara, that pumps heavily on the aquifer, then discharges untreated waste into the Santiago River without regulation, thereby creating a river of potent foam and a strong, foul odor.

In February 2008, an eight-year-old boy, Miguel Angel Lopez Rocha, died after he fell into the river  near the El Salto Falls, where not that long ago tourists came from all over the world to see the falls. He died 19 days after he fell into the river. One autopsy indicated heavy metal poison was the reason for his death. Along with the industrial pollution, all the human sewage of 20 million people is fed directly into the river, without one sewage-treatment plant.

This was the emphasis of the Rainwater Conference: to begin to bring clean water to the people of Mexico.