Geology undergraduate student Nolan Marshall and environmental engineering student Alyssa Virgil survey the uplands of the Upper Ramuschaka Watershed above Zurite, Peru. | Photo courtesy of Jazmin Sandoval

HSU Students and Professors Plunge Into Peruvian Water Project

Students and professors across multiple majors worked together throughout the last few years to bring water from the peaks of the Andes Mountains in Peru to a small town below

Zurite, Peru — a tiny town nestled in between ginormous mountains in the heart of Peru. For many in this agriculture-based community, getting water on a regular basis had been a struggle due to constant landslides and other factors out of their control. Bonanza en Los Andes sought to fill that void.

A several-year-long project that wrapped up funding in December of 2020 involving students and professors from the College of Natural Resources and Sciences at HSU. The group was twenty members strong and helped plan, design, and build irrigation canals connecting the mountains to Zurite. The project wrapped up funding in December of 2020. One of these students, geology graduate student Wyeth Wunderlich, helped oversee the technical side of things.

“Our goal is to say ‘Okay — this is an agrarian town that relies heavily on agriculture,” Wunderlich said. “So how do we connect the water resource availability upstream basically up in this watershed with what the water resource demands are in the community?”

Wunderlich explained that around the world, water resources are incapacitated to an extent and there is not a lot of knowledge on how these hydrological systems operate. For him, this is where his wheelhouse comes into play but he did not want to be too aggressive.

“We don’t want to tell anyone what to do, but if we can develop good quantitative estimates of what happens when and where in the landscape water is coming from,” Wunderlich said. “Then hopefully it can help inform management decisions for Zurite and other communities like Zurite.”

Wunderlich would like to take what he learned from Bonanza en Los Andes to future endeavors.

“I hope to bring the same skill set that I’ve used here in the project with Zurite and the Ramuschaka watershed to our local water and groundwater-surface water systems here in Humboldt and the California coast,” Wunderlich said.

Jasper Oshun, a geology professor, was the principal investigator for this project. He emphasized the value of forming bonds across cultural boundaries.

“It’s important to foster these types of relationships between college and younger students in terms of providing the opportunity for students to travel in see the similarities and differences in different parts of the world,” Oshun said.

Staying on the same topic, Oshun appreciated the collision of different disciplines at HSU when it came to this project.

“These types of environmental issues — issues of water, issues of water quality and quantity or land management — they all require a diverse set of viewpoints in terms of the stakeholders involved in the differences of science,” Oshun said. “And people need to come together on the same page and there’s a lot of value in having different perspectives.”

As someone who wrote the grant for this project, Oshun is frustrated that there aren’t more opportunities for his students in the College of Natural Resources and Sciences to travel abroad.

“I think it’s not necessarily on the radar of students in CNRS that there is an opportunity for them to travel abroad,” Oshun said. “And that their skills are valued or their skills could be immediately applied in a way that could benefit a community.”

Nolan Marshall, a senior and geology major, was a major force in Bonanza en los Andes. In addition to drafting geologic maps, taking stream discharge measurements, cataloging soil samples and testing them in his critical zone lab for water content, Marshall also created 2-dimensional cross-sections of peatlands. He is grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in a bridge-building project with the local Peruvians.

“They were not only a joy to be around but local professionals and students contributed so much to the project — it wasn’t possible without them, ” Marshall said in an email interview. “One of my favorite work days was when I logged core with the all Peruvian drill crew. I’ll never forget it. “

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