Irrigating, Conserving and Educating at High-Altitudes
Updated: May 22
Located at 4,500 meters above sea level and virtually untouched by humans, it would be hard to find more pristine water than our water source, the Ccelhuaccocha (hel-uwah-ho-cha) Lagoon. Formed from glacial meltwater, the runoff from this aquamarine lagoon travels through 7 kilometers of canals before reaching our vineyards.
These canals were built as part of a special project called The MERRIS Plan, a joint collaboration between Peru and Germany that initiated in 1975. Designed to promote sustainable and competitive agriculture in the Andes and Amazon Rainforest, hundreds of small-scale farmers in rural Peru have received access to water to irrigate their crops.
Along with 180 members in the Curahuasi Valley, we are part of a water cooperative, small farms reaping the benefits of this canal system that connects us to Ccelhuaccocha. For now, there is more than enough water for everyone. In fact, 55 liters of water per second flow through the canals to reach the Curahuasi valley. That’s an incredible 1.7 million cubic meters of water available for dispersion every year. Whatever isn't used flows to the Atlantic Ocean via 3 rivers: the Lucmos, the Apurímac and the mighty Amazon.
However, despite this resource’s plenitude, we use water sparingly at Apu. Only when the hillsides of the Curahuasi Valley start to parch during dry season (April- October) do we tap into the irrigation system. Our focus is on conservation- 2 hours of watering by drip irrigation per week is enough to sustain our grapes.
Preservation of this precious resource is necessary. Peru’s glaciers are at risk of disappearing because of global warming. As noted in Peru Climate Change: Impact on Glacial Melt & Access to Water, people in rural areas, especially small-scale farmers, will suffer the most when the glaciers melt. Apparently the destruction is imminent. The report states: “glaciers in Peru have irretrievably lost one third of their surface area since 1970. The now unavoidable melting of glaciers in Peru will severely reduce water supplies in a country that is already water poor”.
This alarming fact has compelled us to take more steps to conserve water. First, we are exploring dry farming at Apu. We think our soils would facilitate this method; limestone allows the vines to grow deep roots to access the rainwater stored in the earth, even during the driest months. Second, as president of the watering cooperative, Fernando is teaching conservation to the other members. As a result, people have started replacing surface irrigation with tanks, tubes and drips. Third, Fernando is also working with engineers from the Ancapara Program, which was designed by the Regional Government of Apurimac to improve infrastructure of irrigation systems. They are currently installing pipes and sprinklers across the Curahuasi Valley and teaching people how to use them.
Water is essential for winemaking. Approximately 85% of every bottle of wine is water. In the case of our premium Peruvian wine, 85% of every bottle contains a mix of glacial meltwater and Andean rain. However, the necessity to conserve water drastically transcends winemaking; lives depend on this precious resource. We will do our part to protect it here at our high-altitude winery & vineyards, both through conservation and education. In the end, we hope our small efforts will have a much greater impact on the Andean and worldwide community.
“Plan De Mejoramiento De Riego En Sierra y Selva.” PROYECTO ESPECIAL REGIONAL PLAN MERISS, www.meriss.gob.pe/WordPress/.
Reyes-Hurt, Ana. Peru Climate Change: Impact on Glacial Melt & Access to Water. Peru Support Group, 2013, www.perusupportgroup.org.uk/peru-climate-change-water.html.