Integrated Catchment Management to Maintain the Basis for Sustainable
Water Supplies for People and Ecological Services (El Salvador)

Implementing Institution: Unión Mundial para la Naturaleza-UICN Mesoamérica
Administration of Funds and Technical Assistance: Unión Mundial para la Naturaleza–UICN Mesoamérica
Ministerio del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales de El Salvador

Duration: 4 years
Official Termination Date: December 2005
Address: UICN-Mesoamérica
Moravia, Costa Rica, 100 metros sur Iglesia Católica.
Teléfono (506) 241-01-01
Fax (506) 240 99 34
APARTADO: 0146-2150 Moravia, Costa Rica.
[email protected]

A highly sensitive area…
With a rainfall regime of 1000 mm annually, the low lying areas in the western part of El Salvador (Province of Ahuachapan and Sonsonate) can be considered as one of the driest areas of the country. The hydrographical region ‘Cara Sucia – San Pedro’ with a total surface area of ca. 600 km2 is often recognized as one of the most sensitive areas in the country. Consisting of several sub-catchments (Rio El Sacramento, San Fransisco, La Palma, Cara Sucia, Agua Chappio, Guayapa, El Naranjo, El Rosario, Copinulo, San Pedro) the hydrographical unit discharges only 5 m3/s on average. As such the area has the most restricted water resources of El Salvador. The area is characterised by volcanic soils, sediment deposits at lower elavations and a steep topography rising from sea level to 1800 meter over less than 25 km.

The province covers three main life zones: Humid Tropical Forests, Dry Tropical Forests, and Mangroves all containing a rich biological diversity. The rich biological diversity found in the national park of ‘El Impossible’ is some of the best conserved of Central America. Outside this protected area the steep slopes are partially covered by ‘caffee con sombre’ agroforestry systems. In the coastal zone extensive mangroves exist which consist of primary forests and forests rehabilitated after hurricane damage in the 1980s. The conservation of tropical mountain cloud forest at the higher elavation of the Cordillera de Apaneca (1816 m.a.s.l.), the mangroves near Barra de Santiago and the agroforestry systems form key-elements of natural resource management in the hydrological unit. Although the area lies in the zone that was heavily impacted by Mitch, relatively little negetive effects were recorded. This indicates that the natural resources management is very effective and could function as a model for other areas.

Needing integrated catchment management…
Some concerns have recently been raised about the unsustainability of agricultural and fishing practices in the area. Shrimp fishing is currently practised year round without a seasonal fishing stop. Agricultural practices in the area between the national park ‘El Impossible’ and the proposed Ramsar-site ‘Cara de Sucio - Barra de Santiago’ are increasingly causing soil erosion and a further loss of biological diversity. Furthermore, urban developments around San Jose El Naranjo, Jujutla and Guaymango as well as in numerous small villages are affecting the freshwater resources in the area through discharge of untreated waste waters.

To counter these threats improved management of the hydrological unit is needed. This could entail the establishment of well targeted biological corridors within and between the various lifezones especially focused on maintaining freshwater biodiversity. At more local levels, it could require specific actions such as reduction of untreated effluents, rehabilitation of eroded areas, establishment of river riparian management zones and implementation of a fishing closed season. The development of these activities should however be based on the development of a hydrological unit mangement plan that draws from the lessons learned in the entire unit and aims at co-ordinating the activities of the various actors within the various catchments.

Currently no co-ordination within the entire hydrological unit of ‘Cara Sucia – San Pedro’ exists. The lack of co-ordincation forms one of the institutional obstacles to improved management of the hydrological unit and conservation of its rich biodiversity. Various organisations have expressed their interest in becoming involved in the project including the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (MARN), Foundacion de los amigos del arbol (AMAR), Salvanatura… (add other names of organisations working in the area to be contacted soon).

The protection and sustainable management of the natural resources within the ‘Cara Sucia – San Pedro’ hydrological unit.


  • Develop local capacity for improved water management including training and awareness raising;
  • Develop a co-ordination of organisations and institutions involved in natural resource use in the ‘Cara Sucia – San Pedro’ hydrological unit to improve its water resources management;
  • Develop and start implementing a management plan for the ‘Cara Sucia – San Pedro’ hydrological unit;
  • Define and carry out key-interventions within the hydrological unit to enhance ecosystem services improve water quality and protect biological diversity.


  • A campaign to raise the awareness of local stakeholders for improved water management;
  • A series of training sessions on integrated water resources management in the hydrological unit;
  • A co-ordination structure for the integrated management of the water resources in the ‘Cara Sucia – San Pedro’ hydrological unit;
  • An integrated water resources management plan based on an ecosystem approach for the ‘Cara Sucia – San Pedro’ hydrological unit;
  • A series of site specific interventions to protect and improve water availability, water quality and biological diversity.
During the first year the project will focus on building alliances between various organisations that are currently working in the hydrological unit. A awareness campaign will further be developed to create a better understanding of the water dependencies that exist between the various parts of the hydrological unit. The development of this campaign will be based on the preliminary surveys and assessments that will be carried out within the catchment. Individuals from key stakeholder groups will receive training in key elements of integrated water resources management. These individuals will form a core group from which a preliminary co-ordination group for the hydrological unit will be formed. Furthermore, immediate and urgent needs with respect to water management will be identified in the hydrological unit using Rapid Appraisal techniques within both rural and urban areas. Several basic monitoring units will be installed where needed.

During the second and third year the co-ordination group will develop the management plan, supported by the project staff. This support will entail both technical support including surveys, data gathering and data analysis and presentation and support to the management of the co-ordination group. A wide consultation within the unit will be set up to allow input from all stakeholders. Local level interventions will be defined and carried out to alleviate immediate needs. At the end of the second year, all information required for the management plan will be available. The third year will focus on defining the details of the management plan together with a business plan for its operationalisation. This will include the definition of local and basin wide conservation and development investment priorities and mechanism for financing. Specific emphasis will be placed on cost recovery, payment of environmental services and innovative sustainable financing mechanims where appropriate.

During the fourth year, a start will be made with implementation of key interventions to improve the water resources management in the hydrological unit. This will include for example rehabilitation of degraded areas that are key to sustainable water resources management, measures to control discharge of untreated effluents, and soil erosion control.