Peruvian sisters create artificial reservoirs atop mountains, drawing on ancient indigenous wisdom for climate solution to water scarcity in the Andes

When it comes to climate solutions and solutions of any kind in fact, they can be found by looking to the past which is exactly what Peru-based agricultural engineers and sisters Magdalena and Marcela Machaca did in order to deal with water scarcity in the south-central region.

Drawing on ancient indigenous wisdom, the sisters decided to build artificial reservoirs high in the mountains to harvest and “cultivate” rainwater, the same way their ancestors did.

Manmade mountain-top reservoirs, which locals refer to as lagoons, capture and store water during the rainy season from November to February, while in the dry season, the water filters through the ground to recharge the rivers and aquifers used by local authorities to provide water to residents and farms.

In recent years, climate change has led to increasingly dry conditions for communities in the Peruvian Andes. Water became scarce for more than 200,000 Quechua indigenous people around 40 years ago when the snow that once covered the Andes mountains near the Peruvian city of Ayacucho started to disappear.

The Quechua sisters built their first reservoir back in 1995 through their organisation, the Bartolome Aripaylla Association, which uses traditional knowledge to help indigenous communities improve their economic activities.

In order to create the reservoirs, Magdalena and Marcela Machaca choose natural landscapes already shaped like reservoirs, to reduce the amount of digging. With agreement from local communities and authorities, they seal any leaks with soil and plant native ferns that keep the soil firm, naturally filter the water and shelter birds.

Marcela Machaca told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “The lagoons play the role that the frozen mountain-tops used to play.”

To date the Machaca sisters have built more than 120, which together provide Ayacucho with more than 130 million cubic metres of water for human and agricultural use.

Each reservoir – some up to 600 metres in diameter – usually takes just a couple of months to build, and fills up fast in the rainy season.

The sisters create small canals to let water escape and prevent the reservoir overflowing in heavy rains, and those take water to the mountain communities. At the same time, the reservoirs recharge the aquifers and groundwater used for the city’s water supply.

Other organisations have been following the Machacha sisters’ lead. In northern Costa Rica, the Peru-based organisation, Association for Investigation and Integral Development have built five reservoirs in the mountainous area of Guanacaste, which is regularly hit by drought. Nearly two dozen dried-out water sources that have been revitalised as a result, according to locals.

The Association for Investigation and Integral Development believe that initiatives like the artificial lagoons will be crucial in helping rural communities survive climate change.

Images Source: Bartolome Aripaylla Association Facebook page

Bartolome Aripaylla Association

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at

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