Water/ “Cuxta- Há”

Already during the first visit of ALM to El 20 in 2012, different things were learned both from the experts and from interviews with the people. The composition of the soil in the Yucatan Peninsula is rich in carbonate and soluble rocks (mainly limestone); thus, water in the region in hard and unsuitable for drinking, irrigation, and washing. People in El 20 are used to harvesting rainwater, their main source for most of their uses. Nonetheless, droughts can be long and sometimes their reserves get exhausted. 

Access to clean water is a global priority and a human right. In Cuxta-Há (2nd price in CEMEX-Tec competition in 2015), we are carefully exploring the possibilities to set up an autonomous and sustainable water management system that will provide people of El 20 with clean and sufficient water. It includes the implementation of dry toilets, the ritualization of the Mayan bucket shower, repairing a communal water tank for the school, building an artificial lake (including a cleaning and distribution system) on top of a mountain, and developing an ash-based-water-softener. 


From 2015-2017, the water engineering and sustainable development engineering students from our team set up laboratory equipment  in the community and walked around collecting samples from wells, water tanks, and the river. In 2017, the team was able to conclude that there is a comprehensive hard water issue along EL 20 in all well samples. Additionally, coliform bacteria was present in all water samples, excluding bottled water; it could not be confirmed, but it is possible that the source of contamination are human feces from malfunctioning septic tanks.  Ammoniacal nitrogen was found in very small concentrations, but the concentrations of nitrate nitrogen vary greatly, maybe due to animal and plant decaying processes or because of leaking septic tanks. Turbidity tests indicated some kind of colloidal particles or air induced effect with no negative effects on health and pH level was consistently within an acceptable range (ALM report, 2017).

In 2018, the water engineering labbers in the team decided to develop a filter (water softener) by using ash and sand. The team found out that groundwater in El 20 is even harder than what the team of 2017 had thought (the equipment used was for aquariums, therefore it had limitations). They also found out that the local sand and rocks are basically limestone and not useful materials for the filter. Through a collaborative design workshop, the team learned that water softening with ash used to be a common practice among the women before the large water tanks for harvesting rainwater were installed. A major finding for the development of the project is that the largest volume of rainwater is nowadays being used for washing laundry and this is the reason why sometimes they run out of water suitable for drinking. The development of a water softener to be used for laundry would ensure sufficient drinking water for the community for the whole year. 

Since 2016, two thesis works in industrial design are focusing on the dry toilets and washing (shower with bucket) space for “La Casita Complex”. The latter was finished in 2019, and the former one is still under development. Together, these two technologies and cultural practices seek to decrease the amount of water used per person per day and prevent the contamination of groundwater with grey and black water. 

Finally, in 2019, the team was able to draw a clear link between Cuxta-Há and the Health Security Programme. The different infrastructures and practices, but mainly the artificial lake, community tank, and dry toilets can potentially lead to a reduction in the amount of medical emergencies in El 20. And if the Community based health care fund is implemented along Cuxta-Há, the community could generate some savings to be invested in other areas such as education or environmental protection.


Cuxta-Há (Autonomous Water Management System)

and its potential contributions to life in El 20

Health Security

Cultural Heritage

Environmental Sustainability

Economic Security

Artificial Lake

It includes a cleaning and distribution system.

The community could easily monitor the quality of the water.

People of El 20 have said they would like to have running water; but they could not pay for the service. They would only accept an autonomous system. Its construction has an environmental footprint; nonetheless, it would be built within the community’s urban area.  By increasing their communal water reservoir, they would not run out of drinking water, and would spend less in bottled water. By keeping track of its quality, related medical emergencies  and associated costs could be reduced.

Aljibe Central 1, 2

This water reservoir would primarily serve the school. The aim is providing the children with sufficient clean water.  Providing children with water while they are at school could help those families that buy bottled water to save some money.

It would also enable them to host tourists without risking their own water reservoirs at their households.

Dry Toilets 1, 2

ALM’s hypothesis is that the septic tanks can be leaking coliform bacteria into the groundwater. Dry toilets could prevent this, and thus might help prevent related diseases.  Preventing groundwater contamination. Preventing the need of building more septic tanks in the future; therefore, preventing further soil contamination. Dry toilets could help the community produce fertilizer that could at least be used to grow the crops that the animals eat, which could help them save some money.  


showers 1, 2

Traditionally, people of El 20 wash with buckets. Unlike other cultures (e.g. Finnish or Japanese), where this kind of washing process is ritualized, in rural Mexico it is pejoratively seen as a practice of “the poor”. ALM proposes this can be changed. Washing with a bucket tends to be less water intensive than taking a shower. Bucket showers is a way of controlling water consumption in the community, and very specially, for the tourists. It might be one of the keys to a real sustainable tourism.  Limestone in groundwater causes pipes to clog, which makes maintenance of the system difficult and expensive. All this is avoided with bucket showers.

Water softener (for laundry)

If a water softener is developed for laundry water, the families of El 20 could wash clothes with groundwater and have sufficient drinking water for the whole year.   Softening water with ash is a traditional practice in the community. It is also a way to reuse the ash from their stoves. Indirectly, this could help the families of El 20 save money dedicated to buying water during the drought. 

Water Lab1

The community would be sure that their water is suitable for drinking.  A Water Lab would enable the people of El 20 to have a truly autonomous water management system. The Water Lab could also help people of El 20 keep track of groundwater and river water quality. The Water Lab could imply installation and maintenance costs, but they could also offer water testing services to other communities in Calakmul, or build partnerships with loca actors, such as the Reservoir or the University.
1 Infrastructure that is part of La Casita Complex. 

2 Facilities also for the Community Tourism Strategy

Water project presentation 2013

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