The hydrological ecosystem services compensation system: the Mariño micro-basin in Abancay, Peru

The local organizations and peasant farmer communities of Apurimac hold activities to protect springs, plant native trees and build ccochas (artisanal reservoirs) to improve water regulation.
Multiple Authors
Rontocchocha, Apurimac. By SUNASS
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This article was originally featured in the Swiss Development Cooperation – Peru bulletin.


Forests can help reduce the vulnerability of ecosystems and increase resilience, thereby contributing to climate change adaptation. Forests can similarly contribute to climate change mitigation if their role as carbon reservoirs and potential to capture greenhouse gases is recognized. It is important that definitions of conservation and sustainable management strategies take this two-fold role into account. It is key that Andean forests be integrated into climate change and natural resource management strategies and policies in the countries of the Andean region.

Andean countries’ resources for addressing climate change are still geared to the lowlands, and barely link investment to adaptation and mitigation. Only 5-10 per cent of the original Andean forests remain, and they are extremely important for the strategic environmental services they provide. A total of 40 million people depend directly on them for this.

The objective of this article is to present the Andean Forest Programme’s experience to improve water regulation in andean forest landscapes and hydrological monitoring system in the Mariño micro-basin of Abancay, in Peru. The webinar “Agreements on payment for ecosystem services”, held on 5 June, was the space to present it.

The Andean Forest Programme in Peru

The Andean Forest Programme has as its learning site the Department of Apurimac, a region with a mountainous terrain and an altitude of 1,000 to 5,450 m. Its natural vegetation ranges from high Andean grasslands, natural and planted forests, to a number of herbaceous and shrub associations. It has a very varied climate. Climate change is having its effect however, and is reflected in glacier retreat, increases in average temperatures and changes in rain patterns, which are shown in variations of the hydrological cycle, reducing the availability of water in the dry season.

With the support of the Andean Forests Programme, the local organizations and peasant farmer communities of Ccerabamba, Huironay, Pacchani, Kiuñalla, Llanucancha, Atumpata and Micaela Bastidas held activities to protect springs, plant native trees and build ccochas (artisanal reservoirs) in order to improve water regulation in Andean forest landscapes, which include patches of forest, grasslands and high Andean wetlands. They also installed a hydrological monitoring system to evaluate the impact of the activities. The programme and a working party composed of local organizations and communities identified and planned the activities, and as a result it was possible for all to establish relationships of trust and make progress with local governance. For more information on the activities, please refer to Panorama del Programa Bosques Andinos en el sitio de aprendizaje Apurímac – Perú.

This work of collaboration provided a basis for the National Sanitation Services Superintendence (SUNASS) to comply with Law 30215, Mechanisms of Retribution for Ecosystem Services, and to earmark reserve funds from the drinking water tariff for activities for protecting and restoring the water source in the city of Abancay (the capital of the Apurimac Department). The activities are currently headed up by the Abancay Municipal Drinking Water Company (EMUSAP Abancay) which coordinates with local organizations and communities and reaches agreements with the rural communities about the activities. It is the first project in Peru which uses a system of this kind in the sanitation sector.

Sharing the experience

The programme shared its experience in Abancay through the webinar “Agreements on payment for ecosystem services”, held on 5 June, World Environment Day, and promoted the webinar as an opportunity to exchange and analyse information and learn about the payment for ecosystem services system (MERESE) in the Mariño micro-basin of Abancay, in Peru.

Reflections from the panellists

The multilevel approach to implementing public policies should be taken into account, especially those concerning nature-based solutions, and how these become visible and have an impact at the local level. SUNASS’ compliance with Law 30215 is now reinforced with the recent amendment of Decree Law 1280, which establishes that one of the functions of the Ministry of Housing, Construction and Sanitation is the “promotion of the conservation of water sources that produce drinking water for providing sanitation services”.

The update of the regional (subnational) sanitation plan is to be updated, and is expected to incorporate conservation of water sources, understanding by “conservation” the protection, restoration and sustainable management of the Andean forest landscapes where these sources are found.

The payment for ecosystem services system is promoted by the National Sanitation Services Superintendenceand are the main system for doing so, and they will also help reduce the gaps in natural infrastructure, as established by the Ministry of the Environment (MINAM). The water source is the core area of intervention and is an opportunity for local and regional governments to fulfil their environmental functions and competencies. This will lead to public investment projects and additional investments for reducing pressure on ecosystems, benefiting the communities and expanding the impact of these systems.

The landscape approach makes it easier to see and better understand the impact of human intervention in high Andean ecosystems and its effects on downstream communities. In Abancay this approach has led to progress towards a conceptual model that integrates supply, demand and governance for sustainable water and sanitation services into the comprehensive water resources management approach.

This model, especially the “supply” component, is the basis for some of the programme’s key activities in the Andean forest landscape, together with its collaboration with the communities and its commitments to restore their water sources. The communities are now the main stakeholders of the payment for hydrological ecosystem services system with the Abancay Municipal Drinking Water Company. The parties have signed agreements for the financial resources collected by the Water Company (through the drinking water charges earmarked for these systems) to be invested in restoration in community lands, so that there is a an increase in water flows, not only to the city of Abancay, but also to the peasant farmers’ agricultural activities.

Finally, the programme has brought about trust between the community and third parties, through agreements for collaboration in activities which are to the benefit of all. However, although the payment for ecosystem services system make the city’s sanitation service more sustainable, they still face the challenge of ensuring quality sanitation services in nearby communities, which is even more important in a health emergency.


  • What is needed is a new take on the sanitation service, where water sources are key for a drinking water service, more so still in a context of climate change. Looking at the broad picture, it is possible to identify the links and relationships between the various stakeholders: communities, organizations, urban-rural, sanitation services providersand local government, to allocate water and use public resources efficiently for managing water comprehensively.
  • This approach must take into account supply aspects (ecosystems in good condition and providing benefits to communities), demand (increasing the value of drinking water in cities) and governance (decision-making channels with multi-level and multi-stakeholder participation). The model would bring to the fore the need for protecting and restoring city water sources, and for raising awareness among the urban population. It would also encourage dialogue on water and sanitation management.
  • The MERESE is a technical, environmental, economic, and above all a social process that requires the commitment of all. Transparency in the use of the funds raised by the EMUSAP Water Company and the involvement of the community are key to the system’s success, and facilitate new investment by local government, cooperation agencies and the private sector (through investments in restoration).

The event was organized by the National Superintendent of Sanitation Services (SUNASS), HELVETAS Swiss Inter-cooperation – Peru (as part of the Andean Forest programme), the MERESE Governance Platform in Mariño, the EMUSAP Abancay company, and the Micaela Bastidas peasant farmer community. Participants included Iván Lucich, president of Sunass; Yersey Caballero of the Institute for Development and Environment (IDMA); Luis Albán Contreras of the Andean Forests Programme – Helvetas Peru; Wilbert Huillca, general manager of sanitation services providers EMUSAP Abancay, and Iván Juro, representative of the peasant farmer community.

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