Home Cointzio, Mexico Study site location & description

Study site location & description Print

The Cointzio study site is located south of the city of Morelia in Michoacán province, Mexico.

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1. Geographical description

2. Institutional and political setting

3. Past and on-going projects

4. Relevant end-users / stakeholder groups


1. Geographical description


The Cointzio watershed is located in the mexican transvolcanic belt, an area with active volcanoes. The landscape consist of a chains of mountains (volcanoes) with altitude up to 3500 m separated by small valleys. Soils are of volcanic origin. At high elevations, Andosols are predominent, while on slopes, Acrisols occur, and in the plains Vertisols and Luvisols are found. After destruction of the soils by erosion, a layer of volcanic tuff, locally called “tepetate” is often present at the soil surface, and has such physical and chemical characteristics that it prevents the growth of natural vegetation. This material can be converted into a productive soil, but this is very expensive.


The climate is a sub-humid temperate one, with heavy rains in summer. The mean temperature is 18°C, and the average precipitation is between 700 to 900 mm/year, mainly distributed from June to October.
The land uses is mainly based on forests, agricultural lands, fallow fields and eroded and desertificated areas. From 2 000 to 3 500 meters high, the land use is mainly agriculture, generally extensively managed. There are few villages and the urbanization was limited but since the last years, an uncontrolled development of week-end houses starts.


Forests, constituted by pine and oak trees, are widely exploited for timber and resin. The deforestation rate is high, increased furthermore by a lack of control by authorities. Moreover, people take advantage of the clearing of forests to set new agricultural fields or grazing areas, and this contributes to more erosion problems in the watershed. Agricultural practices remain traditional, the main one being “año y vez”, meaning that farmers grow crops for a year and let the soil rest the following year. However, fallow fields are often used as pastures, due to the lack of grazing areas, which increases erosion.


In Morelia’s district, a reforestation program was able to increase the percentage of forested areas. However, the planted trees often do not survive due to a lack of attention during their growth. Futhermore, many plantations are made with eucalyptus, which is not a native species. The biodiversity and the original composition of Michoacán forests are not really taken into account in reforestation programs.


Two experimental sites were set up in the Cointzio watershed for previous and actual projects. The first one is located in a micro-watershed called Atécuaro, on a Acrisol, and the second site is on an Andosol. Some data on river flow and climate have also been gathered.


2. Institutional and political setting


Mexico has one of the largest erosion problems of Latin America, the problem being especially large in central Mexico, an area of steep slopes and highly erodible soils. Land management complicates the erosion problem as local customs include removal of crop residues for use as animal food, burning of remaining residues.


Governmental programs to reduce environmental impacts have not been successful. The International Centre for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CYMMIT) initiated activities on conservation tillage at the end of the 70’s with a training program in which participated the FIRA (a government financing and development agency) and the INIFAP (National Institute of Forestry, Agriculture and Animal Production). In the early 90’s, the INIFAP established a coordinated research program on conservation tillage and created the National Research Centre for sustainable Production (CENAPROS).


Water policy is receiving increased attention over the years, as e.g. shown by the fact that the IV world water forum took place in Mexico. The government created the watershed councils at the beginning of the ’90s, but they began really to be in place in the 2000.


In the case of Michoacán, the Federal government, the state as well as the town of Morelia are very worried about natural resources, especially forest and water. In 1994, a forum about the situation of the Cuitzeo watershed showed the lack of knowledge, the degradation of the area and the non appropriate answers of the institutions. Since 1999, the institutions are working, trying to correct the mistakes or lack of actions, and focusing on the Cuitzeo (4000 km2) and Cointzio (650 km2) watersheds. Thanks to this work, things are changing and a relation between people, administration and scientists is on the way. DESIRE will give us the funds, knowledge of colleagues and more credibility to improve and develop these relationships.


3. Past and on-going projects


  • REVOLSO, 2002-2006: Alternative agriculture for a sustainable rehabilitation of deteriorated volcanic soils in Mexico and Chile. The objectives of REVOLSO are to develop improved technical methods to achieve rehabilitation of deteriorated volcanic soils, to achieve sustainable use of soils that are not degraded yet. This is done in collaboration with the local population, and making use of their knowledge.
  • Hydrological regionalisation and changes of the land cover and land use in the Cuitzeo watershed, 2004-2006. The objective of this programme is to study 3 different watersheds of ± 100 km2, measuring the river dynamics, climate, land cover and land use to try to model the hydrological dynamics of this watershed. The Cointzio watershed is one of the study area study in this project.
  • Human development and Ecosystem Management in the Cuitzeo watershed, Michoacan, 2005-2007. The main objective of this programme is to study the effect of ecosystem management on water quality in the Cuitzeo watershed.
  • Soil degradation and restauration focus with people participation in the Cointzio watershed, Michoacán, 2005 – 2007. The objectives of this programme are to determine soil degradation levels in the Cointzio watershed, to develop a model of the environmental and socio-economical processes existing in the watershed, to promote remediation through sustainable land use practices


DESIRE will built on results obtained by these previous projects, and will help us to finish the study of the Cointzio catchment, resulting in more data, knowledge, and a better relation with the people. In that way, we will be able to propose a real and complete management package to the land users, farmers, administrations and politics.


4. Relevant end-users / stakeholder groups


In Mexico, the administrative organisation is pyramidal. At the top, the district (municipio) of Morelia, is divided in sub districts (tenencias), which sub-divided in communities (comunidades). In some sub-districts, there are farmer associations.


In the east part of the Cointzio watershed, there is strong and good relations between scientists and people. Our presence since years and our help to try to resolve some of the problems of the community give us a strong knowledge and gratefulness. We count also with very good relations with the main administration of Morelia and the state of Michoacan: the National water commision (CNA) which register climatic data, hydrology and irrigation in the plains, as well with the water catchment, treatment and distribution of the public organisation (OOAPAS) give us all their data and we give them back some technical helps. We share our results and works with the environment commission of the town of Morelia, as well as the secretary of agriculture which are interested to developped soil and water rehabilitation in their area.


DESIRE could help us to study all the watershed with a better precision and get quicker results to presents them to the institutions as well to the farmer communities of the Cointzio Watershed.


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