Parras de la Fuente is an oasis in the desert of Coahuila in Northern Mexico. As its name (grapevines of the fountain) suggests, Parras is replete with ample spring water and the first winery in the Americas. That said, the community members we worked with in Parras were very concerned about the threat of water privatization and water pollution from local industry. This political and environmental context was explored through my co-director, Dr. Francisco de la Cabada, and our community liaisons from Universidad Tecnológica de Coahuila (UTC), especially through the work of Carlos Alejandro Ramírez Rincón (director) and Simón Leija (environmental science instructor).
In the summer of 2008, students in the Practivistas program worked with a local daycare and center for women and children to build a small, 9-square-meter school garden and a rainwater harvesting system (Figure 5-7) to water the garden. As the daycare facility focuses on education and is quite public, a criterion for success—in addition to effectiveness, safety, and aesthetics—was educational value. To meet that criterion, the system was labeled to inspire and teach visitors about water conservation and collection.
The summer months are the most active for the garden, yet incur the least rainfall, so sizing the system to have enough storage in July was a major constraint. One important lesson learned in this system was that the first donated storage tank had been reused to store an unknown chemical. While the plastic was originally food grade, we were not able to identify the specific contaminant and therefore the tank was rendered unusable. A new, food-grade tank was secured before we completed the system.