3 Creative Solutions to Protect Water, Wildlife, and a Warming City
In the heat zone of Louisville, Kentucky, 170 residents have been trained as “citizen foresters.”
This article is part of our state-by-state exploration of local solutions.
Between February and October, Juanita Revak works with her father, Gilbert Sandoval, learning how to be a mayordomo. Mayordomos are caretakers of the communally governed irrigation systems called acequias, which feed water to family farms and date back to the 1700s. Throughout New Mexico and Colorado, there are some 600 documented acequias, serving communities from three to 300 people.
Sandoval teaches Revak all he has learned in his 56 years in the volunteer position: how to distribute the water, organize cleaning, and resolve disputes among families. Revak records the process through photos, videos, and field notes.
It’s a response to the “mayordomo crisis.” Though mayordomos are essential to the operation of the acequias, the departure of young people for school and other opportunities means that fewer people will be prepared to take on the role. In some cases, families have sold off their water rights because they no longer know how to take care of the acequias, says Pilar Trujillo of the New Mexico Acequia Association.
To pass on the knowledge that is indigenous to the communities, the New Mexico Acequia Association launched the Mayordomo Project, which connects older mayordomos with those who want to learn the skill but may not have a mentor. The process is then recorded for future generations.
Passing on the knowledge and helping youth become involved is a way of protecting the tradition. “It’s really about the joy of being a land-based people,” says Trujillo. “There’s a pride in the work. Even the youth appreciate that.” —Araz Hachadourian
After being fitted with a radio collar in 1991 by a group of researchers in Alberta, Canada, Pluie, a 5-year-old female gray wolf, covered about 40,000 square miles over two years. Her wanderings demonstrated to scientists the need for species protection beyond wildlife refuges and parks.
“We wouldn’t be able to maintain [the wildlife] if we just maintained those parks.”
Partly inspired by Pluie’s story, the nonprofit Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) formed in Montana and Alberta to collaborate with 300 partners on projects that span the Rocky Mountains. Y2Y advocates for conservation, recognizing the ways climate change and human encroachment are altering the region’s habitats.
Since 1993, Y2Y has identified key areas that need protection, helped to establish two new Canadian national parks, and monitored more than 600 miles of highway to reduce collisions with wildlife. “We wouldn’t be able to maintain [the wildlife] if we just maintained those parks,” says Y2Y President Jodi Hilty. —Paulina Phelps
Louisville is what is known as an urban heat island—a metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding areas. And because some parts of the city are up to 10 degrees higher than others, a 2012 study from Georgia Institute of Technology called it the fastest-warming city in the country.
Louisville is what is known as an urban heat island.
Attempting to beat the heat, Louisville’s Office of Sustainability is encouraging businesses and individuals to switch to roofs that are light-colored or covered with vegetation. It’s also enlisting residents to plant trees and grass around their homes. The nonprofit group Louisville Grows has offered workshops to educate and encourage people to do this properly, training more than 170 residents as “citizen foresters.”
“It’s not some company being contracted to plant a tree,” says Natalie Reteneller, Louisville Grows’ director of urban forestry. “There’s real pride and ownership and camaraderie that comes when people are planting trees themselves.” —Olivia Anderson