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Improving environmental conditions across North America is a challenging task. Individual investments made by each country can achieve greater success if a shared sense of responsibility and stewardship is developed at the community level. With this in mind, the CEC Council established a grant program in 2011, the North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action (NAPECA) to support communities in their efforts to address environmental problems locally.The purpose of the program is to support hands-on environmental community projects lead by nonprofit nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), environmental groups, community-based associations, academic institutions, among others. The objective is to empower and build the capacity of local peoples and organizations to improve their health and environmental quality. NAPECA supports a diverse set of projects that address CEC’s strategic priorities, build partnerships and present innovative approaches to tackling local environmental challenges. NAPECA grant selection criteria have been established to ensure that these projects deliver tangible results.
I would like to begin this presentation, proceeding from North to South, highlighting one of the Canadian projects: Depave Paradise. The goal of the Depave Paradise project is to increase infiltration of stormwater by increasing permeable areas, and slow the flow of stormwater by enhancing the urban forest, literally by lifting off pavement and other hard surfaces and replacing them with native plants and trees that will act as filters and sponges for polluted runoff and restore the natural hydrological cycle.
Depave Paradise recruits and trains volunteers to carry out depaving events in parking lots, school yards, and similar areas. So far, events have been completed in four out of 5 communities, with more than 102 volunteers engaged. In the first year, Depave Paradise generated $26,000 worth of matching support and exceeded the original target of 125m2, with a total of 462 m2 of pavement removed to date.
Another very successful project taking place in Canada is helping indigenous communities plan and adapt to climate change. This project is being implemented by the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER).
55 participants from 7 provinces and 3 territories in Canada, and 7 states in the USA attended the workshop on Climate change adaptation planning. Worksheets to develop climate change adaptation plans were produced and are available through the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources website http://www.ppw.ca/ The report “Tips for hosting a similar event on climate change adaptation” was developed to facilitate that efforts like this one can be easily replicated by other communities in North America.
In Louisiana, the Residents for Air neutralization project is tackling air monitoring, accident prevention and environmental justice through community participation.The goal of the project is to protect the health of communities living on the fencelines of the Calumet refinery from petrochemical emissions by training them to monitor and document pollution using innovative methods.With the funds provided by the NAPECA program, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade is providing fellowships for 4 youth Environmental Justice Corps to be trained in the areas of public health, fundraising, environmental law, community organizing, facilitation and participatory action research. These corps in turn train and raise awareness with other community members.The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is training community members to carry out air monitoring using “the bucket”, where they get their name, which is an EPA approved air-sampling device that tests for Volatile Organic Compounds. According to the “bucket brigade” model, residents are trained to take the samples themselves and record the readings.
The information these volunteers are collecting is helping document and further analyze the link between the pollution in their neighborhoods and their health.
LABB is also training Shreveport youth and residents to report chemical accidents, odors and health effects using an online map where reports, photos and video can be posted called the iWitness Pollution Map (map.labucketbrigade.org).
The Dolores River Restoration Partnership project is addressing an entirely different environmental problem, that of invasive species. Along the Dolores River in Colorado and Utah, the invasion of tamarisk is an important problem. As it happens with invasive species, they tend to displace native species affecting the natural balance and the health of the ecosystems. The focus of this project is to remove tamarisk and restoring riparian plant communities. To do so Southwest Conservation Corps is recruiting volunteers from minority populations, including young adults in Hispanic communities as well as several indigenous communities including Navajo, Zuni, Acoma, Hopi, and Ute tribes from the region.
Two eight-person conservation corps crews started DRRP restoration activities in April, following two weeks of training and education on the project. These crews have just finished the two month spring season treating over 30 acres of tamarisk and preparing sites for follow-up treatment of secondary invasives, in the fall.
Continuing our trip South, into Mexico, the project called “Treatment and recycling of greywater to be re-used in family vegetable gardens” took place in a small town in the outskirts of Mexico City. This was the second project to come to a successful conclusion. The problem this project addressed originated from the lack of a proper sewer system. The lack of a sewer system represents a public health problem in the community, as wastewater generated from domestic activities such as laundry, dishwashing, and bathing would stay around washing sinks forming puddles until it decomposed, causing foul odors, and becoming a source of diseases such as dysentery, hepatitis and other frequent gastrointestinal illnesses. The problem worsens during the dry season as these grey waters decompose even faster.
The project provided education and awareness workshops on the importance of treating and recycling household grey waters to 75 families. Local bricklayers were trained to build the grey water treatment filters and each family received training to use them properly and to maintain the filters themselves to ensure optimal operating conditions. Escuela del Agua also trained the 75 participating families, to create and maintain family vegetable gardens which are already having direct benefits, including: helping to improve their diet, families plant and harvest their own vegetables so they are saving money, and in many cases achieve surplus produce, which they sell, providing families with an additional source of income.
42 water quality tests were carried out to make sure water met the standards for use in vegetable gardens. All water tests produced positive results.
Escuela del Agua also trained the 75 participating families, to create and maintain family vegetable gardens which are already having direct benefits, including: helping to improve their diet, families plant and harvest their own vegetables so they are saving money, and in many cases achieve surplus produce, which they sell, providing families with an additional source of income.
In 2009, hurricane Jimena left the Magdalena Island off the Coast of Baja California, in shatters. Almost none of the houses survived. To prevent this from happening again, COBI began to plan a project in which the local community would take an active role in designing and re-building their housing units, using 100% sustainable materials, found in the island. Thanks to the NAPECA funds, this project has become a reality and is helping families living in the island build new structures that are better fitted to their needs and the local climate. COBI designed a series of workshops addressing on community organization, to foster among others, participation of women and children in the decision-making process, on sharing responsibilities and on work distribution, making it a truly inclusive planning and design process. Subsequent workshops provided participants with information on climate change and they learned how to build the adoblocks with materials from the island, which are 100% sustainable, long lasting, and have thermal properties ideal for their weather and location. During the implementation of the project, the community chose a community hall as the first structure to be built using the eco-technique.
With the NAPECA funds an adopress machine used to make the adoblocks was aquired and will remain property of the community after the project concludes, so they can continue building additional living and recreational spaces.
This was only a snapshot of some of the success stories that NAPECA is helping to generate. There are several other projects that are making a difference in the lives of many. The NAPECA portfolio of projects covers a wide range of environmental topics, but one thing in common to all of the projects is that they are delivering tangible results. All of these projects are having a positive impact in the lives of community members, helping to improve their health and local environment. The NAPECA projects are successfully bringing about change through active community participation and are helping to advance the work of the Commission by addressing CEC’s strategic priorities. Building on this success, I would like to call on Secretary Juan José Guerra, to announce the new NAPECA grant cycle and opening of the 2013 Call for Proposals.