Natural Capital Champions

Stories of people working to include nature’s benefits in their decisons.

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Deputy Director of Conservation for Latin America Region, The Nature Conservancy

NatCap since the beginning was fundamental to our work. Most of our project designs are based on NatCap model scenario predictions.


Water funds are where people downstream make investments that incentivize water supply protection upstream. You oversee the design of these new socio-financial systems, which are replicating rapidly across Latin America. What will it look like a few years down the road?

It’s our five-year plan to have water funds around all the major metropolitan areas across Latin America. In Brazil we now have five water funds, and a goal to have 13 by the year 2020. We took what we knew to Colombia and then started to replicate in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Peru. Now we have 19 water funds launched in Latin America, many others in the pipeline, with a target to reach 40 water funds by 2020.

And you’ve been using NatCap’s software, like InVEST and RIOS, to implement the projects?

Yes. NatCap has played a very important role, by working with us to develop science and tools that we use to figure out where to invest, and in what kinds of activities to get the best results.

We can predict, for example, where and how much to invest to reduce erosion and sedimentation. For example, in Sao Paolo, we recently had one of the worst droughts in history. As the water in the reservoirs drew down to point that they could not use gravity to get it to users, they had to pump the water for the first time. Anyone could see how much sediment had built up in the reservoirs. This matters because sediment in water has to be filtered out, which is really expensive to do. The more sediment in a water system, the more it costs to make it safe to drink. There’s real value in keeping sediment up on the hill.

The INVEST models showed that if we restore 12,000 hectares around Sao Paolo, around 3 percent of the whole of watershed, we can reduce 50% of the erosion. It’s not just any hectares that will give us that return. RIOS also shows us where to do the restoration to get the best results. 

Will you give an example of where RIOS is already helping to direct investments, and where those investments are already making a difference?

RIOS models so far have been applied in Guatemala, Medellin, Bogotá, Cauca Valley, Lima, and Guayaquil water funds. For all of these places, we expect that the investments will be guided by the RIOS optimal investment approach. In some of them, like the Cauca Valley Water Fund (Agua por la Vida), the RIOS results have already improved the return on investment of the actions being taken by the local communities, because the investments are now more targeted.

When it comes to increasing flows in rivers, what is it that you’re still trying to figure out?

What we know is that if you restore and protect the watershed, it will help regulate the flow throughout the year. We can reduce flooding in the wet season, and provide more water in the dry season. But our models still don’t answer, in a very accurate way, by exactly how much.  

There is a recently developed model that will allow us to do this, and we are working with NatCap to start to test it in our conditions. I’m sure that this will be one of the most important avenues of work from now on, considering the great importance of base flow for the water security of metropolitan areas.