Photo: Bart Wickel / SEI

“Bofedales” are small-sized, high-altitude wetlands formed by native prairies that are permanently sustained by shallow groundwater and surface water. They are generally found in the high Andean plateaus above 3,800 meters, where precipitation, snowmelt and subsurface water gets collected and stored in the plains. Bofedales have a critical value when it comes to guaranteeing sustainable water supply, as they regulate the water balance and the soil and nutrients cycle of the mountain watersheds.

The Katari watershed is located in the Andes Province, in Bolivia’s La Paz Department, and represents an area of approximately 700km2. Water flows from the Katari watershed are one of the main water supply sources to the cities of La Paz and El Alto. Katari itself is home to a population of 1 million inhabitants in the municipalities of Batallas and Pucarani and is facing a rapid urbanization with little concern for territorial planning and the environment. This has led to a severe degradation of the water quality in the entire basin.

Moreover, the health of the wetlands is deteriorating due to the impacts of climate change and the retreat of the mountain glaciers, combined with the increased water demand from the urban area of La Paz and El Alto. This is further worsened by the construction of dams, overgrazing, and the uncontrolled groundwater extraction to support the mining activity.

To protect the processes and services provided by healthy “bofedales”, the first step is to study the hydrological regimes that support them and to understand the underlying connections between the hydrological and ecological systems.

With the support of the IDB and in collaboration with the local government authorities, such as UGCK, MMAYA and GPM, SEI will develop a baseline of remote-sensing-based indicators describing the changes in eco-hydrological conditions, vegetation cover, water body areas and snow cover, over the past 36 years (1984-2020). Then, SEI will build a conceptual model in the WEAP platform to analyze the hydrology of the Katari watershed. Linking the modelling efforts and the remote sensing analysis will allow us to assess the potential impacts of climate change on the wetlands and the water supply.