“The key to a successful project? Working in a participatory way.” Calzada del Agua has addressed water security challenges in the Mexican City of Oaxaca with innovative spatial planning and BlueBloqs technology. Their feasibility study, funded by Partners for Water, has been successfully finalized. Below, consortium partner Adrian Puentes elaborates on the study’s conclusion, the project’s impact and the next steps to come.

Mexico faces the challenge of managing both floods and droughts. To address this issues, Adrian Puentes, Architect and Urban Planner at BD+P, and consortium partners FieldFactors and Centro SC, introduced a circular water system featuring BlueBloqs technology. This approach enables the local collection, purification and underground storage of rainwater, and facilitates its reuse. Their feasibility study has now successfully come to an end. We spoke with Adrian about the outcomes, the impact and the next steps to come.

Did you know FieldFactors won the Partners for Water Award?

Outcomes of the feasibility study

“An important outcome of the feasibility study is that the traditional market square in we selected in the City of Oaxaca turns out the be the perfect location for a pilot of our circular water system. It has a high gap between water demand and availability, has great potential for creating social impact and the right physical conditions for technical and legal feasibility,” says Adrian enthusiastically. He continuous: “We encountered roadblocks due to legal regulations, but we customized our final technical proposal and managed to successfully create a promising business case.” Another outcome of the feasibility study was the development of an urban toolbox by Adrian and his team. This tool helps in the decision-making process for selecting urban spaces where their BlueBloqs solution can be applied.

Local impact

“Apart from naturally recharging the area’s aquafer, the project has also a social impact on the local people,” Adrian says. He explains: “The locals working in the market have formed various factions. Before the start of the project, they often clashed over different views on managing the market square. However, the project has united them with a strong, collective desire for its success.” Their collective enthusiasm for the project comes from the fact that they often face water shortages which results in expensive water deliveries by truck. “Our solution projects to reduce their water expenses by 50% while ensuring a more reliable and consistent water supply,” explains Adrian.

Additionally, the square is set to undergo a transformation from a deteriorated, relatively unsafe area to an accessible, green space with comfortable seating, prominent water features and enhanced nighttime lighting. Adrian: “This will make it a safer and more inviting place.”

Stakeholder involvement

“Working in a participatory way is the key to a successful project,” Adrian states. “From the beginning, we have involved many stakeholders. From the area’s residents to the water sector, heritage institutes and the municipality. Not only to involve them, but also to truly understand the people, the community and their relation to water.” Adrian explains that they incorporated this by conducting formal workshops and meetings, but also through informal ways, such as cycling around and socialising with the community. Adrian: “I think trying to be humble and aim to learn from the local community at first, and then incorporate these understandings into the solution makes an invaluable difference”.

The next steps

“With the positive results of the feasibility study, we are determined to move forward with the pilot project to proof the working of the system; technically as well as socially. Both the local people and the municipality of Oaxaca strongly support the project, so the next step is to secure funding for the pilot and develop the executive plan.” Adrian is very positive about the potential for the project to scale up. He says: “There are many squares like this in Oaxaca, and more than 100,000 markets in Mexico with similar water challenges and business cases. Many municipalities have expressed their interested in our collaboration already, so the future of our BlueBloqs solution looks promising.”

Innovation in progress series

During the Partners for Water programme 2022 – 2027, several projects that received the Partners for Water subsidy will be followed from start to finish. Over the next few years, they will take you with them on their transformative journey. You’ll be able to gain insights into their promising solutions, innovative processes and collaborations with local partners, as well as their struggles, challenges and valuable lessons learned. Stay tuned and follow their journey through the Partners for Water website and our LinkedIn page!

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Combating water scarcity by integrating circular water systems into a bustling Mexican market. This requires not only innovative technology, but also clever spatial design and a deep understanding of the political and social context. Calzada del Agua meets that requirement.

Their feasibility study, funded by Partners for Water, is coming to a successful conclusion. The key to its success? “Combining each other’s strengths.”

It’s a rainy afternoon when Karina Peña sits down in her office in the Dutch city of Delft. The glass wall and open metal shelving reveal a glimpse of vibrant activity. The innovative start-up’s CEO and co-founder explains: “Here at FieldFactors, we’re producing unique modular systems to make locations or facilities water-neutral and climate-resilient – we call them ‘BlueBloqs’. They consist of products for rainwater purification and control and monitoring that work together seamlessly”. Karina strongly believes in the power of working together – and not just when it comes to products. “We’re the technical partner of the consortium behind Calzada del Agua and together we aim to tackle Mexico’s severe water scarcity.”

Karina Peña by Guus Schoonewille

Creating synergy

The project benefits from the expertise shared by each consortium partner. For instance, while FieldFactors provides BlueBloqs, urban planning firm Beccan Davila + Puentes (BD+P) handles the spatial design, integrating FieldFactors’ technology into regional settings. Additionally, the Mexican consultancy agency Centro SC provides valuable support by managing the regulatory context and relevant stakeholders. “It’s a fruitful, complementary collaboration,” Karina says. “Since we had never worked together before, we had to get to know each other first. How could we create synergy? Clear communication turned out to be crucial – for example, to discuss what each of us could bring to the table and what we expected from one another.”

Bridging differences

The consortium adopted a proactive approach in order to understand the full implications of the partners’ differences and align their perspectives. “From the start, we defined a shared vision and project goals identifying the best ways to support each other in pursuing those goals.” This meant, for instance, combining each other’s risk perceptions. “Service providers, who mainly invest in work hours, perceive other risks than a technology provider like us”, Karina explains. “FieldFactors invests in materials and needs to deliver a product overseas. And we care about the future maintenance of the BlueBloqs.”

Bluebloq circular water system

Sharing experience

The differences between the three organisations are not just a challenge. They are also extremely valuable. “We wouldn’t be working on this project right now if it weren’t for the collaboration with the BD+P and Centro SC”, Karina says. “At FieldFactors, we had no prior experience in Mexico. So, we lacked local networks, as well as a thorough understanding of the institutional and regulatory context there. Our consortium partners had those networks and knowledge of the local context. Their extensive experience in Mexico is one of the main factors contributing to the potential success of the Calzada del Agua project.”

Stakeholder engagement

“We must actively involve local stakeholders if we want our project to have real and lasting impact”, says Karina. “From the local government to the water authority and from the water utility to end-users. They need to be on board.” That’s why the consortium has held numerous workshops with these stakeholders. “In Mexico, involving the authorities and end users is crucial for projects like ours to succeed. If you don’t engage with the local authorities from day one, you won’t make any progress. To create ownership and interest, it’s critical that they take part in creating the solutions. That’s why we asked them: what are your needs? How do you think a rainwater reuse system can work?’ We spent time genuinely listening to their input and that was reciprocated with enthusiasm and support from them!”

Stakeholder engagement in the Mexican city of Oaxaca

What’s next?

With the feasibility testing coming to an end, the consortium partners now find themselves at a time of realignment. “Having identified a receptive market, we are now discussing how to implement the BlueBloqs technology in Mexico and how we can continue working together. In the coming period, we will explore how to accomplish this effectively and what is required to grow as a consortium.

‘Calzada del agua’, a feasibility study in the Mexican city of Oaxaca is one of the promising projects that Partners for Water subsidises

To get a basic idea of what this project entails please read the introduction interview we conducted with Nahuel Beccan Davila, a partner at consortium member BD+P. José Antonio Tello, public affairs expert at consultancy firm Centro SC joins us for the second installment in this interview series.

‘We are the local partner for this project’, José explains. ‘Something you need in Mexico, because navigating the institutional, social, political and legal framework can be difficult. To give an example, there are three levels of government involved in this project. The Mexican water authority at the federal level, the state government which in this case operates the water utility and the municipality of Oaxaca. And because Oaxaca is a UNESCO World Heritage city we also work with the office involved in protecting archeological and historical sites.’

Bringing stakeholders together

The municipality is the driving force behind the project – promoting, operating and implementing it. ‘Their support and leadership are important to gain the trust of other stakeholders’, José tells us. ‘We are constantly in the process of working out how to best navigate this complex framework and bringing stakeholders together. We, for example, organise workshops and get more in-depth through one-on-one conversations. In addition, since this project is international, we also smooth over time zone and language differences.’

Important social places

Rainwater that would normally go straight into the sewage system is captured, filtrated and reused with the BlueBloqs technology. The project site was carefully chosen; a piped river runs underneath the street and furthermore there is natural aquifer. José adds: ‘Although there are more projects like this in Mexico, what makes this one unique is that we directly link the captured water to the end user, in this case a local market. Not only do they need lots of water, but markets are also important social places in Oaxaca. This way we hope to make our efforts visible to the larger public.’

Institutional frameworks

‘The technology works, and we can adapt it to the local context and conditions, but that’s not the biggest challenge. The difficulty for a project like this lies in navigating our legal and institutional frameworks. We are not quite as ready yet as, for example, you in the Netherlands. We are in close contact with regulators to ensure we get the right authorisation from them. We also formalise and explain everything we do. This way we earn the trust of all parties involved.’

What makes this project unique is that we directly link the captured water to the end user

Natural track to follow

Stakeholders are very interested in the scalability of the programme due to the water shortages in Mexico. ‘The opportunities and needs to do so are there’, José tells us. ‘This project is a first insight into how feasible it is. If we do scale up, of course there will be new challenges like finding other suitable locations to capture and filtrate water and finding the right end users. But, I believe that once this method has successfully been demonstrated, scaling up will be the natural track to follow.’

‘The Dutch government and PfW have been very supportive of this initiative. And they’ve been a role model to us as well, demonstrating how to work together with international stakeholders. So, I hope the Dutch government support continues so that we can keep finding innovative ways of establishing efficient methods for collaboration. This way we can make sure that the local adaptations of this great idea stay as close as possible to the original plan.’

Innovation in progress series

During the Partners for Water programme 2022 – 2027, several projects that received the Partners for Water subsidy will be followed from start to finish. Over the next few years, they will take you with them on their transformative journey. You’ll be able to gain insights into their promising solutions, innovative processes and collaborations with local partners, as well as their struggles, challenges and valuable lessons learned. Stay tuned and follow their journey through the Partners for Water website and our LinkedIn page!

For the first interview of the Innovation in Progress series, we speak to Nahuel Beccan Davila, one of the project leaders of ‘Calzada del Agua’, on a sunny morning at the BD+P office in Oestgeest.

Water and culture form a common thread in Nahuel’s projects, as evidenced by both his story and his bookshelf, which prominently displays books about the Dutch polder and Mexico. Nahuel enthusiastically shares the ins and outs of the feasibility study that he and consortium partners FieldFactors and Centro SC have been working on since January.

Keep reading to find out how this common thread is also reflected in this innovative project.

Project leader

Calzada del Agua’s project leader is a passionate architect and urban planner, with a strategic vision and a love for water. After graduating from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nahuel moved to the Netherlands to study at Delft University of Technology. He worked on numerous international projects, with ‘water’ being a constant theme. “We try to integrate water into all of our spatial developments. Water is the engine of our processes and the centre of our designs. We have found that water has a different character in every country. One of the biggest mistakes is to think that your vision of water can solve it all. It’s important to understand how water is integrated in the local culture and how you can adjust your strategy accordingly”, says Nahuel.

Transforming challenges into innovations

Nahuel explains that Mexico struggles with both too much and too little water. The streets, especially in cities, often flood due to heavy rainfall. When he and his team were working on a masterplan for the municipality of Oaxaca, they were inspired to make use of the abundant rainfall. That is how this Partners for Water (PFW) subsidy project originated. Nahuel says: “To tackle both drought and waterlogging, we offer a circular water system that employs BlueBloqs technology. This technology facilitates local collection, purification, underground storage and the reuse of rainwater. To identify the best implementation site, we’ve developed a toolkit for conducting the necessary analyses. This approach is unique because we offer the spatial design and technical solution as a single product, resulting in an integrated water and space solution.”

Consortium Partners

In addition to awarding the subsidy, Partmers for Water has played another role during the project’s preparation. Nahuel explains: “After we were inspired to start this project, we contacted Partners for Water with our idea. As it turned out, they knew of an innovative startup that was already developing a circular water system. This led to a great collaboration with FieldFactors and our application for the subsidy.” From previous projects, Nahuel was already familiar with their local consortium partner, Centro SC. This consultancy agency excels at establishing the right local connections and analysing Mexican regulations, which is essential to navigate through the country’s various and complex bureaucratic systems and conducting the feasibility study.

Collaborating with local partners

BD+P has been implementing projects in Mexico for over 13 years, including previous successful collaborations with the municipality of Oaxaca. This has provided a solid foundation of trust for the current collaboration. Nahuel says: “With this project, the municipality of Oaxaca is making a statement about how water can be used in a different way. This statement aligns with the municipality’s vision: a city that promotes education. The stakeholders are included through design workshops, brainstorming sessions and interviews. The municipality intends to use the collected and purified rainwater for various water users, such as bus stations, hotels and markets. This recycling of water helps to solve their water shortage problem and reduces the financial costs of water usage.”

In the field

With a smile on his face, Nahuel talks about the existing challenges: “There are various laws and regulations in Mexico that sometimes overlap. In addition, data is often lacking. While you can easily request data in the Netherlands, here you often have to measure it yourself. Usually, we see a project as a linear process, but that is not the case here. We are going from A to B to Z and back again. As a result, we can say that the project is progressing a little less smoothly than planned.”

Next step

“At the moment, we are in the midst of our feasibility study. The outcome of this study will determine whether the project is technically and financially feasible. If it proves to be, we will apply for the next PFW-subsidy round to start a pilot project!”

Innovation in progress series

During the Partners for Water programme 2022 – 2027, several projects that received the Partners for Water subsidy will be followed from start to finish. Over the next few years, they will take you with them on their transformative journey. You’ll be able to gain insights into their promising solutions, innovative processes and collaborations with local partners, as well as their struggles, challenges and valuable lessons learned. Stay tuned and follow their journey through the Partners for Water website and our LinkedIn page!

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