Two men shoveling a pile of small stones
Local masons mix concrete at a primary school in preparation to pour the cistern foundations. | Photo Credit: Bruce Frederick, Peace Corps

Grassroots Project Jumpstarts Conservation Efforts in Mexican Countryside

By Carollyne Hutter

In rural Mexico, the small town of El Carrizal, Queretaro, is working to improve residents’ quality of life by boosting water conservation, renewable energy generation, waste management, and environmental protection. To support this effort, El Carrizal received a Peace Corps Small Project Assistance (SPA) grant of $10,000 funded by USAID/Mexico to construct three rainwater collection cisterns, install 10 solar hot water heaters, build two dry composting toilets, and create numerous educational ecotourism signs. 

Before the town began this construction, Bruce Frederick, the project manager and Peace Corps volunteer, polled residents to determine their priorities. They responded with the need to address water scarcity and deal with the hotter, drier climate. He then hosted educational workshops in which the community learned about the importance of water conservation, biodiversity conservation, and climate change. 

Due to climate change, it rains very little here and there are water shortages for humans and the animals.

J. Lázaro Luis Hernández Salinas, Secretary of the Communal Lands of Carrizal

Overall, the project seeks to employ various eco-techniques and technologies to advance environmentally conscious best practices in rural central Mexico. A key focus is climate resilience, particularly helping the community adapt to and combat the negative effects of a warming climate.

To survive the dry season, which extends from October to May, El Carrizal traditionally stockpiles water during the wet season. To change this approach, the people of El Carrizal are building three cisterns at the local primary school. These cisterns will capture some 45,000 liters of rainwater annually. The community is enthusiastic about the rainwater collection system and volunteered to help with the cistern construction. 


Four children in matching track suits stand near rainwater collection cisterns
Rainwater collection cisterns near completion as primary school children prepare for a community celebration.

Cisterns for [the] collection of rainwater are of a lot of benefit to us.

J. Lázaro Luis Hernández Salinas, Secretary of the Communal Lands of Carrizal

The next phase of the project focused on renewable energy generation and waste management. With the new resources, the town installed solar hot water heaters in seven households and three ecotourism cabins. Not only is solar energy free and clean, but solar hot water reduces the demand for wood or fossil fuels as energy sources for heating domestic water. These heaters will provide more reliable energy, save people money, and prevent toxic air pollution and deforestation in nearby areas. 


Two men bent over and installing a solar hot water heater while two people look on
Community members install a solar hot water heater on a rooftop.

The residents have been incredibly supportive and engaged in this work, too, as families generally have no access to hot water on demand other than boiling a pot on the stove. 

The solar heaters help with overheating, by avoiding burning fuel, and we are taking advantage of solar energy.

Maria Veronica Carmen Hernandez Salinas, a community leader in El Carrizal

The third phase of this project, currently underway, involves the construction of dry, composting toilets in the backcountry of El Carrizal. These backcountry toilets are instrumental for the ranching community and strengthening ecotourism efforts.  

The townspeople are emphasizing ecotourism as a sustainable development concept to boost the local economy and preserve the wilderness conservation area, which includes 5,000 acres in the El Zamorano mountain range. To support ecotourism, they are using a portion of the USAID funding to design and build trailhead signs for hiking and horseback riding trails. These new trailhead signs will highlight their website Rancho El Carrizal and provide information about distances, elevations, and sites of interest along the trails, such as ancient Chichimeca rock paintings.

With the successful completion of the first USAID SPA grant projects, the El Carrizal residents are eager to expand their efforts into other environmental needs. Preparations are currently underway for a second complimentary SPA grant application, which will include a funding request for additional shade trees and the establishment of a school garden with pollinator plants and drip irrigation from the rainwater collection cisterns.  

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Integration, Mitigation
Adaptation, Air Quality, Biodiversity Conservation, Clean or Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency, Infrastructure, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, Locally-Led Development, Mitigation, Resilience, Water and Sanitation
Latin America & Caribbean

Carollyne Hutter

Carollyne Hutter is a Senior Communications Specialist with USAID’s Advancing Capacity for the Environment (ACE) project and has extensive experience writing on international environmental issues. Carollyne has a Master’s in Development Studies from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

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