Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Loosing Topsoil...

We wanted to share a great article with you published by We have included a link to the full article below. 

Here's a small excerpt from the article: 

"You might think that dirt doesn’t matter that much — after all there seems to be so much of it all over the planet...But researchers warn that the world’s precious supply of topsoil..." 

Monday, August 10, 2015

SOIL Fund Project Underway in Africa’s Newest Nation

By Will Mahoney, Jane Wegesa and Elise Pinners

The road from Rongo to Lokichoggio,
 was in very poor condition worsened
by recent heavy rains.
In 2011, the southern part of Sudan declared independence from Sudan and became the Republic of South Sudan.  Since then, the northern part of this new nation has been racked by tribal conflicts.  However, the province of Eastern Equatoria in the southeastern part of the country bordering Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia is far removed from the conflicts and has managed to stay relatively peaceful.  Apart from some banditry and cattle rustling, it is on course for economic and social development.

Armed guard with vetiver en route
Kenya to South Sudan.
Earlier this year, the SOIL Fund received a pre-application from an IECA Region 2 member, Elise Pinners, for support of an erosion control project in the Eastern Equatoria town of Narus.  Elise works with PLUS-Kenya, a Nairobi-based non-governmental organization which assists East African communities practice sustainable land use.  In particular, they show people how to use deep-rooted, hardy vetiver plants to prevent erosion of cultivated land. 

Elise’s Kenyan colleague, Jane Wegesa, had visited Narus and found there were no vegetables in the local market.  She learned that the staff of the Bagita Girls' Primary School (a boarding academy in Narus for girls from the area) was trying to develop vegetable gardens.  However, when locations near the school were cleared of vegetation for gardening plots, topsoil was easily washed away by the intense rainfall during the wet season.  In addition, streams near the school were developing gullies. Jane found that the school administration, teachers and students were very interested in embarking on a soil conservation project to provide food security and improved livelihoods for the community.  It was hoped that the students could in turn show their parents how to prevent erosion, conserve valuable topsoil, and start gardens at their homes.
Sacks of vetiver “slips”
successfully delivered to
Bagita School in South Sudan.
In April 2015, the SOIL Fund committee approved a grant of up to US$4700 for the purchase and transport of 20,000 vetiver plants to Narus as well as training and supervision.  Jane would provide hands-on instruction in the establishment of a vetiver nursery at the Bagita School and the rehabilitation of gullies.  Getting the plants to Narus was a serious challenge.   The nearest source of vetiver seedlings (called “slips”) was in the city of Rongo in southwestern Kenya.  To get them to Narus, they first had to be transported more than 800km (500 miles) north by pickup truck to the town of to Lokichoggio in northwestern Kenya.  There the plants would be transferred to a pickup truck from the school which would take them the final 46km (28 miles) across the border to Narus.  Not only would this be a long trip, it was complicated by poor roads (which turned to mud in the rainy season when the trip would take place), rivers that had to be forded, and the presence of bandits along the road.  The bandits would not be interested in 20,000 plants but might rob the driver and steal his truck. 

 Establishment of a large vetiver nursery
at the Bagita Girls’ Primary School.
To ensure safe passage of the truck and cargo, the SOIL Fund paid for an armed security guard to ride on the truck.  On May 14, the SOIL Fund received news that Jane had arrived successfully in Lokichoggio with the vetiver.  She was met by the driver from the school.  However, they were having to wait in Lokichoggio because a river they would have to ford was too swollen to cross.  The following day, the river flow subsided enough for them to make the crossing, they made it through customs at the Kenya-South Sudan border, and arrived in Narus with the plants.

On May 16, the SOIL Fund learned that a vetiver nursery had been established at the school and mitigation was carried out on at least one gully with vetiver hedges planted and half-moons constructed above it.  Elise reported that the school was “jealously looking after their nursery” and unwilling to share any of the vetiver plants with others in the near future until the plants are well established and have multiplied.

Editor's Notes
All photos are taken by Jane Wegesa, PLUS-Kenya.
This story previously appeared in the July/August issue of Erosion Control. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

An Overview of the SOIL Fund

The SOIL Fund: Addressing erosion around the world
Erosion and sedimentation threaten food security, impede basic transportation, and even cause loss of life and property when catastrophic slope failures bury communities. Massive soil erosion and river sedimentation can result from large-scale deforestation and unsustainable agriculture practices, which is a current issue in the Amazon basin of South America. However, this is a global challenge that the International Erosion Control Association (IECA) is working to address. IECA is a non-profit, member-supported organization that provides education, resource information, and business opportunities for professionals in the erosion and sediment control industry.

What is the SOIL Fund?
At IECA’s annual conference in 2008, several members formed a charitable arm within the organization, which became known as the Save Our International Land (SOIL) Fund. Management of the SOIL Fund is carried out by a committee of geographically diverse erosion control professionals who develop procedures, promote the fund’s work, approve projects, raise funds, and manage financial resources.

The name “SOIL Fund” emphasizes the worldwide focus of the fund’s activities. With the support of IECA membership, the fund provides technical assistance for programs and projects that address soil erosion and sedimentation through applied technology, education, and research. 

To date, all projects have been located in developing countries, although the committee is open to helping underserved communities in developed countries as well. The fund has also avoided supporting large projects using high-tech imported materials, and instead focuses on the use of local equipment and materials to promote sustainability.

SOIL Fund Past Projects
In 2009, the fund conducted its first project in the village of Tsuraku at the edge of the Amazon basin rainforest in Ecuador.  Two SOIL Fund teams provided erosion and sediment control guidance for a pipeline installation through the jungle from a water intake structure to a water storage tank and village school.

In 2010 and 2011, a SOIL Fund team established a banana orchard on Easter Island – a Chilean territory in the South Pacific. The goal of this project was to show local residents how idle, deforested, eroded land could be used to cultivate a cash crop with a ready market on the Chilean mainland.
 Planting banana trees for a reforestation demonstration project on Easter Island in the South Pacific.  Photo by Pablo Garcia-Chevesich.

In 2011, Engineers Without Borders (EWB) asked for SOIL Fund assistance with erosion problems in Malingua Pamba, Ecuador – a rural agricultural community in the Andes. EWB was assisting the community in developing a potable water system. Approximately 75 eroded sites in the community were visited to create a report recommending low-tech solutions for erosion mitigation. In 2012 and 2013, EWB erosion control teams assisted the community with installation of structural best management practices using local materials and planting native vegetation at several high-priority sites along local roads and in agricultural fields. 

Volunteers from the Malingua Pamba community in Ecuador and Engineers without Borders stabilizing an eroded slope above an important village access road in 2013. Volunteers planted Sigsig, a native grass with a long root system, at this site. Photo by Laura Backus. 

Future Challenges
The SOIL Fund faces three challenges in meeting its goal of supporting projects that improve the lives of people around the world who are directly affected by erosion and sedimentation. The first is finding appropriate projects to support in motivated communities. Additionally, many of the proposals received include budgets for local salaries, administration, and expenses that are far beyond the scope and funding capability of the organization.

The second challenge is finding dedicated volunteer leaders for each SOIL Fund project. Though there is a requirement that an IECA member lead projects, nonmember participation also is welcome. The fund looks for committed volunteers to conduct preliminary assessments, train local workers, supervise community projects, and carry out applied research. It also needs volunteers who provide support with skills such as geographic information systems and fundraising.

The final challenge is, of course, money. In the past, the SOIL Fund has relied on member contributions and the proceeds from silent auctions held during IECA’s annual conferences.  However, raising more than $2,000 to $3,000 per year this way is difficult and limits the fund to one small project at a time. To increase financial resources, the SOIL Fund committee has started to approach erosion and sediment control equipment manufacturers, product distributors, and environmental consulting firms to consider the SOIL Fund as part of their corporate giving programs – a charitable cause relating directly to their industry. The committee also has asked IECA’s regional chapters for financial assistance and to consider “adopting” SOIL Fund projects, a program in which a chapter could raise money for a project and have volunteers from the chapter provide the technical assistance.

Getting Involved
The SOIL Fund encourages IECA chapters and individual IECA members to identify worthy projects and provide technical assistance to further international erosion and sediment control.  The first step is to submit a SOIL Fund Pre-Application. Non-IECA members can apply for technical assistance from the SOIL Fund on behalf of a community using the Request for Technical Assistance form. Both of these forms and information on making a donation to the SOIL Fund are available at:   

Disclosure: This article was excerpted from a feature article published in World Water Storm Water Management Magazine, published in April/May 2015. It can be viewed here.

Author’s Note: Will Mahoney is a registered professional geologist and a certified professional in stormwater quality with 35 years of experience as an environmental scientist. His Denver-based consulting firm, Environmental Services International LLC, in Colorado, USA focuses on environmental compliance for oil and gas production and pipeline construction projects.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mexico: New SOIL Fund Work in Oaxaca

My apologies for neglecting my blog for several months.  Fortunately, my colleague Julie Etra has come to the rescue with the following blog post regarding her SOIL Fund volunteer work in southern Mexico.  Julie is the Region 1 Vice President for International Development with the International Erosion Control Association.  - Will

The SOIL Fund has completed 5 Vetiver plantings in and around the southern Oaxacan town of Huatulco, Mexico. Four of the five plantings include nurseries, while three are demonstration projects. Vetiver, a grass native to India, has long been known for its excellent erosion control characteristics, and due to its form (bunch) and lack of seed production is not invasive and will not outcompete native species.

The SOIL Fund hopes that through education and dissemination, the use of this plant will be increased to control erosion on slopes destabilized from road construction, cultivation, and logging.

Sign advertising SOIL Fund work at Copalita, near Huatulco, Mexico.  Pictured are Cornelio Gabriel Ramos and his son, Christian Tadeo.  Cornelio is a local bird guide (pajarero). 
photo by Julie Etra.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Spain: Erosion Control and Olive Orchards - A Field Tour

Story by Julie Etra, MS, CPESC
Principal, Western Botanical Services, Inc., Reno, Nevada USA
IECA Region 1 Vice-President for International Development

The Sixth Biennial IberoAmerican Chapter Conference (CICES VI) took place this year on October 1 - 4 in Granada, Spain. On the day of the 4th, a fortunate group of attendees enjoyed a field trip highlighting the olive industry led by IberoAmerican Chapter President and conference organizer Valentin Contreras of BonTerra Iberica (BPS Group), a design, manufacturing, and construction firm located in Granada.

Olive cultivation dominates agriculture and drives the economy of Andalucía, a province in southern Spain where the conference was held.  The groves seem to go on forever in this part of the country, as a visit to Google Earth will verify.

Typical Andalucía landscape of olive orchards. photo by Julie Etra
Our group of professionals from Chile, Spain, Argentina, Peru, Guatemala and the United States gathered outside the conference center and loaded onto a small bus for a very insightful, diverse and fun tour of the olive industry.

Olives and Erosion
The day started with a visit to an olive orchard in the vicinity of Campotéjar, north of Granada, where the estimated soil loss is 50-100 metric tons/hectare (roughly 22 - 44 tons per acre) per year. To the un-educated eye (and perhaps partly true) olive orchards appear to be monocultures with little vegetation other than some annual grasses and cover crops. This perception was particularly apparent in early October, prior to the winter rainy season which characterizes this Mediterranean climate. It appears that the orchards are managed for the ease and efficiency of harvesting the olives, an obvious priority.

Tour leader Valentin Contreras talks about biodiversity in olive groves. 
photo by Will Mahoney
We looked at two sites with a variety of installations that mainly addressed rill and gully erosion. BonTerra designed and installed several types of erosion control BMPs (best management practices), primarily using different types of blankets and fiber rolls.  In some locations, these installations were also used in combination with gravel-filled tubular nets in key trenches.

Erosion control blankets consist of fiber rolls fabricated with coir (coconut) fiber or Stipa (Nasella) tenacissima (Esparto or Atocha), and polypropylene netting. According to Valentin, the plastic netting is desirable, since it takes longer to break down than the biodegradable nettings, but only lasts 3 - 4 years. Esparto is a drought-tolerant bunch grass of great importance and abundance in this region and is related to other species of Nasella common in the western United States.

Orchard managers use a backhoe bucket to create a large divot (hole) with the excavated soil pushed up next to a tree. This clever technique increases infiltration and reduces runoff. 
photo by Julie Etra

BonTerra also has been working with a non-profit group, EUTROMED, and government agencies, to reduce ground and surface water contamination generated by fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. In combination with erosion control blankets and fiber rolls, they have added containerized plants such santolina, rosemary, and thyme, which they plant on the up-drainage side of the fiber rolls to increase infiltration and nutrient uptake. EUTROMED also is monitoring water quality below the study sites.

In the vicinity, we also saw other types of erosion and sediment control that included rip rap, rock fall netting and gabions.

A combination of fiber rolls and gravel check dams with erosion control blankets address rill and gully erosion.   photo by Will Mahoney
Combining Work and Play
Following the first site visit, Valentin accompanied us to a modern and immaculate olive processing facility where we learned that the Spaniards waste nothing -- even the pits or seeds are processed and used as pellets for heating. Olive oil sampling along with the requisite Serrano ham, cheese, tomato sauce, beer, wine and juice at a lovely local restaurant followed this tour.

We also had the opportunity to visit the efficient BonTerra factory where coir blankets are manufactured.

Field tour participants from Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Peru, Spain, and the USA visiting the BonTerra factory. Julie Etra, the guest author of this blog post, is at the right of the front row wearing a cap.
Additional unrelated and unanticipated stops included yet another olive oil tasting, a five-course meal, and a private tour of the Cueva de las Ventanas (Cave of the Windows) (, This Neolithic cave is located in the municipality of Píñar and was first occupied by humans about 20,000 years ago. Above the cave remains the last Arab outpost and fortress prior to the fall of Spain to the Roman Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella.

Oh, yum! Sampling wine and olive oil in Píñar.  photo by Will Mahoney
Lastly, we visited the very “green” offices of the BPS Group in the industrial section of Granada, where Valentin showed us their green walls of ferns and mosses, the green roof consisting mostly of succulents, samples of rammed earth used in new construction projects, and other examples of energy-efficient construction.

Green wall and green roof at the BPS Group office in Granada.  photos by Will Mahoney
The field trip was a fantastic learning experience and created some great memories.  Many thanks to the IberoAmerican Chapter of IECA and to Valentin Contreras!

A similar version of this article previously appeared in IECA’s journal, Environmental Connection (Volume 7, Issue 1, January 2013).

Coming next:  A visit to a very big rock - Gibraltar, that is!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Spain: Presentations at CICES highlight erosion control work in a variety of Iberoamerican countries

In my previous post, I summarized some of the introductory presentations at CICES, the IECA Iberoamerican Chapter’s October 2012 conference in Granada, Spain.  In this post, I’ll focus on a few of the subsequent presentations that dealt with erosion and sedimentation issues in Spain and Latin America.  These were not necessarily the “best” presentations (although they were good to excellent) but I wanted to include examples from several different countries in order to give you readers a better idea of the wide geographical range of professionals working on erosion and sedimentation issues in Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries.  At least 17 countries were represented at the conference.

Olive groves are found in great abundance in the Andalucía region of southern Spain.  We had several presentations about erosion problems associated with olive cultivation.   One was titled “Initiative against erosion through integrated restoration in watersheds dominated by steeply-sloping olive groves in Andalucía” (my English translation).  The authors included some spectacular photos of catastrophic erosion in olive groves.  The principal author, Federico Julián Fuentes, noted that this problem has accelerated since the mechanization of Spanish agriculture took off in the 1960s.  He pointed out that social, economic, legal, administrative, and technical factors are obstacles in the restoration of affected watersheds.  He spoke of the need for a pilot project which would include not only technical studies but also incorporate an action plan supported by the participation, collaboration, and consensus of public administrators, affected farmers, environmentalists, and civic organizations.

Left: Small rivulets start to develop between lines of olive trees planted on a slope. Right: The rivulets naturally evolve into large gullies with time. 
photos from presentation by Federico Julián Fuentes
There were a number of presentations from Argentina.  “Riparian infrastructure for urban restoration in the city of Tartagal, Province of Salta, Argentina” (presented by Gustavo Arce) focused on traditional structural measures to control slope failures adjacent to a deeply incised river channel in a densely populated urban area.  Throughout its history, the Tartagal River has suffered from floods which undercut steep hillsides causing homes to collapse.  To address this problem, engineers from INMAC, a Buenos Aires-based consulting firm specializing in erosion and sediment control, used geotechnical approaches such as retaining walls (gabions and reinforced concrete) to channelize the river.  My first impression was that their approach was perhaps a bit heavy on large-scale structural controls.  However, in a crowded urban setting, I wonder if this is perhaps a more practical option than an environmentally-friendly and aesthetically-pleasing design relying on bioengineering.   

Photos at the beginning of construction (top left) and following completion (bottom right) show how the steep unstable slope on the top left was moderated and terraced above the new retaining walls. 
photos from presentation by Gustavo Arce

Gino Mathews from Peru gave a presentation on erosion control training for rural communities in the Peruvian highlands. The training aims to take the skills of indigenous people who have a long history of working with earth and rock to construct agricultural terraces and apply these skills to the mining industry.  People from local communities can then become employed in erosion and sediment control for the mining companies from the exploration phase all the way through mine post-closure.  In the process, cooperation between the mining companies and local communities is fostered, indigenous people get good-paying jobs without migrating to cities, and the mining companies can legitimately claim that they are helping local communities and using the skills of local people to protect the environment.  Seems to me like the type of project IECA’s SOIL Fund should get involved with.  IECA can provide skilled erosion control professionals like Gino Mathews to provide the training and the mining companies can provide funding.   
Photo from presentation by Gino Mathews illustrating the terrific skill of indigenous Andean people in construction of agricultural terraces on precipitous slopes.

Paula Pereira talked about the use of bioengineering for stream bank restoration.  She co-authored a paper (“Protection and Recuperation of Stream Course Margins Using Bioengineering”) describing methodologies used and monitored in the states of Bahia and Minas Gerais, Brazil.  Sediment retainers, wooden fences, and berms packed with live cuttings resulted in satisfactory stream bank protection.  These low cost BMPs were easy to install and environmentally compatible.  Senhorita (that’s Portuguese for señorita) Pereira is employed by DEFLOR Bioengenharia based in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  Another DEFLOR employee, Luiz Lucena, spoke on erosion mitigation using bioengineering along the Atlantic coast of Brazil.  
Examples from Paula Pereira’s presentation showing stream bank stabilization using live cuttings planted along layers of soil which have been covered with natural fabric blankets.

Ricardo Schmalbach spoke about various erosion control techniques used on the Rio Magdalena, the principal river in Colombia which drains northerly to the Caribbean.  Record floods along the Magdalena during the winter of 2010-2011destroyed large areas of agricultural and industrial facilities, ports, and roads.  More than 500,000 people were displaced and 100,000 are still homeless.  Dr. Schmalbach described the use of “megabolsas” (huge sandbags weighing several tons each) to repair a critical broken jetty along the Magdalena.  Geotextile bags with a capacity of 13.5 cubic meters are filled with sand, dropped into the water from dump trucks, and positioned with excavators (track hoes) to build dikes.
Construction of a flood control dike along the Rio Magdalena in Colombia using “megabolsas.” The huge bags are compacted and consolidated by both their own weight and by the passage of trucks across them as more megabolsas are added.
photo from presentation by Ricardo Schmalbach

We tend to think of El Salvador as a poor, backward Central American nation.  Thus, it was encouraging to learn that state-of-the-art erosion control techniques employing heavy equipment were used in construction of a new 290km highway in the northern part of the country (“Slope Protection on the Northern Highway, El Salvador” by Oscar Alfredo Rivas Cerna).  To protect cut and fill slopes from failure in the tropical climate, geomat incorporating a double-twist hexagonal mesh attached to a filament-reinforced polypropylene was installed.  It was secured with rod anchors placed in a mortar slurry on a 2-meter-spaced grid across the slope.  30,000 square meters of this mesh were used on slopes which had a high probability of failure.  On another 12,000 square meters of slopes with relatively lower stability hazards, natural fibrous geomat (such as coir) was used to promote natural revegetation.
Using a hydraulic elevator for emplacement of hexagonal mesh and erosion control blankets and for drilling holes for rod anchors, Northern Highway, El Salvador. 
photos from presentation by Oscar Alfredo Rivas Cerna.

You may have seen my earlier postings from Bali and Thailand discussing the use of vetiver grass for erosion control.  Oscar Rodríguez Parisca of the Central University of Venezuela pointed out that climate change will bring ecological, economic and social impacts to vulnerable populations in developing countries (“Adaptation to climate change through the use of vetiver systems:  A tool for soil conservation and community development”).  He pointed out that use of vetiver is a simple, low cost option for soil stabilization that is tolerant of environmental extremes and is, therefore, suitable for communities adapting to climate change.  Examples were presented showing applications of vetiver systems to various types of impacts.
Examples of use of vetiver for erosion control in Venezuela: coffee plantation (upper right) & bauxite mine reclamation (lower left). 
photos from presentation by OscarRodríguez Parisca.

Julie Etra (IECA’s VP for International Development) and I were the only “gringos” who spoke at the conference.  Julie talked about the challenges of identifying appropriate best management practices for erosion control and revegetation in arid areas.   For example, revegetation of disturbed sites will often fail unless it is combined with rainwater harvesting to provide adequate moisture for germination and initial growth of native vegetation. 

When wattles are installed in low rainfall environments, they are of little use if vegetation plantings have insufficient moisture for survival. 
photo by Pablo A. Garcia-Chevesich from presentation by Julie Etra.

Julie had an easier time presenting in Spanish than I did as she had the good fortune of attending a private high school in Spain and now lives part of the year in southern Mexico.  Luckily for me, Julie and Gustavo Salerno (IECA Region I board member from Argentina) translated the English presentation of my erosion survey in Ecuador (including PowerPoint slide captions) into excellent Spanish.  All I had to do was practice it a few times before the conference, and Julie was there for my presentation to help me with questions from the audience.

Muchas gracias to Gustavo Salerno and Julie Etra for their translation of my presentation into Spanish!     

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Spain: IECA Iberoamerican Conference held in Europe for the first time

On the morning of October 2, I took a brisk walk from my hotel in Granada, Spain to the Palace of Conferences and Expositions for the start of CICES 2012, the 6th biannual conference of IECA’s Iberoamerican Chapter.  This was my first visit to Spain and the first conference I would attend that was totally in Spanish.  A dozen years ago, the Spanish part would have been less of a problem as I was coming off of five years of Spanish study and an intensive one-month immersion course in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.  However, in the intervening years, I had barely used my Spanish and was really rusty.  At least the subject of the conference was a subject with which I was quite familiar (erosion and sediment control) so I would hopefully be able to figure out what was going on just by looking at the pictures.  And, for the most part, my assumption was correct and some of the Spanish that was buried in the back of my brain was roused from its long sleep.

Conference participants hanging out in the lobby of “El Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones”.
Vendor displays at the conference

After introductions, the first presentation was by Gustavo Salerno, an Argentine engineer and member of the Board of Directors of IECA’s Region 1.  He gave an excellent presentation, Hacia una solucion integral en el control de la erosion y los sedimentos (Toward a comprehensive solution in controlling erosion and sediments) which provided an overview of the global importance of contemporary erosion and sedimentation and identifying the gravity of the problem. 

Left: Valentin Contreras (Spain), Chair of the conference organizing committee; Right: Gustavo Salerno (Argentina), one of the keynote speakers.

Señor Salerno noted that the significance of erosion depends largely on climate and is particularly serious in places like India and South America because of heavy rainfall, a preponderance of steep slopes, and intensive land use.  Of course, we at IECA are focused on erosion associated with highly visible, large construction projects such as highways, pipelines, and power lines.  However, agriculture is responsible for 60% of erosion worldwide whereas urban development accounts for 20% and mining 10%.  Salerno pointed out that erosion from agriculture could be greatly reduced by contour plowing which, as I had seen in many of the countries I had just visited, is still not used as widely as it could be.

Gustavo Salerno then focused on pipeline projects and presented examples of stream crossing design to reduce erosion.  He spoke of the gasoducto verde (“green” gas pipeline) concept which is increasingly being adopted on South American construction projects.  He described elements of the gasoducto verde including narrowing the pipeline right-of-way to the narrowest width possible in rainforests.  The importance of project planning was also stressed.

The next presentation was by a Spaniard, Rosa Arce Ruiz, Professor of Civil Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid.  It was titled “Soil in the development of transportation, industrial, urban, and residential infrastructure”.  Professor Arce started off with a summary of the history of international regulations and proclamations for the protection of soils.  She stressed that “el suelo es un elemento vivo” (soil is a living entity), and documented the stresses on Spanish soils because of deforestation and urbanization.  Deforestation is occurring to provide more land for cultivation, grazing, and wood exploitation.  I was interested to learn that Spain is the most arid country in Europe (so salinization of soils is a large issue), and the Spanish environmental impact assessment law mandates the protection of soils.

Paolo Cornelini spoke about the use of natural engineering to revitalize riparian environments.
We had a presentation from an Italian professor, Paolo Cornelini, who is vice-president of the Italian Association for Natural Engineering.  His presentation was titled “The restoration and conservation of soil in the vicinity of river networks.”  Professor Cornelini reminded us that el rio es una ecosystema (the river is an ecosystem).  He described how the functioning of this ecosystem can be disrupted by disturbances to a river’s morphology, hydrologic regime, and vegetation.  Erosion (such as bank erosion and bed scouring) is a fundamental element interfering with the natural morphology of a river.

In order to “re-naturalize” a river’s disrupted ecosystem it is necessary to restore both its morphology and biodiversity.  Professor Cornelini showed us examples of river “re-naturalization” projects in Italy and South America.   Professor Cornelini showed us examples of river “re-naturalization” projects in Italy and South America.  The emphasis was on use of more vegetation and less technology such as “living” wattles and gabions containing seedlings and placed strategically in riparian areas.  Along the river channel, they recreated the natural step-pool sequence.   He presented an example from northeastern Italy in the Alps near the border with Slovenia.  The concrete channel was torn out and replaced with cobbles.  To stabilize cut banks, vegetated crib walls with vegetated block stone bases were used.  Fifteen plant species were used and after a few years, more than 200 species had colonized the restored riparian area.

Graph from Rodolf Gil’s presentation showing how the percentage of organic matter in agricultural soils decreases over time when conventional plowing is used.

The next presentation was by an Argentine agricultural engineer, Rodolfo Gil, from the Soil Institute at the National University of Buenos Aires.  After giving an introduction to the components of agricultural soils, Professor Gil illustrated how the percentage of organic matter in soil progressively decreases with the number of years of cultivation.  However, this decrease can be slowed by use of direct seeding in contrast to conventional cultivation with plowing.  Direct seeding with crop rotation increases soil porosity and water capacity.  Use of this method has expanded significantly in Argentina over the past 35 years.  And, use of sustainable agriculture (adopting plants and cultivation methods to the local environment) has become increasingly popular in contrast to less sustainable monoculture (single crop) agriculture.
Newly-elected& retiring officers of the IECA Iberoamerican Chapter. L to R: Ricardo Schmalbach (Ecuador & Colombia), Paul Gonzalez (USA), Paula Pereira (Brazil), Valentin Contreras (Spain), Beatriz Fernández (Spain), Nicky Araujo (Costa Rica& Panama), and Juan Carlos Hernández (Guatemala).
Later that day, the Iberoamerican Chapter of IECA held a meeting to elect new officers. Lead conference organizer, Valentin Contreras of BonTerra Iberica (a Granada-based company specializing in erosion and sediment control products), was elected President taking over from Rafael “Nicky” Araujo of Costa Rica and Panama.  For the first time, two women were elected chapter officers:  Beatriz Fernández of Spain and Paula Pereira of Brazil.  Juan Carlos Hernandez of Guatemala was also elected, and he has taken on the challenge of chairing the organizing committee for the next CICES Conference which will be held in Antigua, Guatemala in 2014. 

Coming next: Highlights of some of the papers presented at CICES.
View of the Alhambra from the site of our fiesta at the end of the first day of the conference.

Fiesta participants were treated to a performance by a flamenco dancer.