New Guesthouses and Toilets by the CBEE2011 Team
In June and July 2011, the Deep South Section of The American Alpine Club spearheaded an environmental mountaineering expedition to Peru’s highest mountain range. The Cordillera Blanca contains the highest concentration of mountains higher than 6,000 meters (19,685 ft.) in the Western Hemisphere, as well as the highest mountains in the Tropics. Section mountaineers and other AAC mountaineering scientists spent 2-4 weeks in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. The team collected valuable environmental samples from elevations too high and remote for most scientists to be able to visit.
The following post is from Dr. John All, AAC Member and CBEE2011 Scientist. John and several others spent some time assisting the Peru National Park staff to create new facilities in the Llaca Valley of Huascaran National Park. His report below describes their work on new guesthouses and toilet facilities.
Soon after our arrival in Huaraz, Peru, the seventeen expedition members took a planning and acclimatization trip to Huascarán National Park’s Llaca Valley. While there, our expedition personnel were asked by Park Director Marco Arenas, our host, to provide expert advice regarding some of the infrastructure that was being developed—most notably for assistance with a new composting toilet facility.
Members of the CBEE group had experience with this topic thanks to past AAC projects. Most notably, in July 2010, the AAC presented an international conference for scientists, planners and land managers entitled ‘Exit Strategies’ that dealt with managing human waste in the wild. Several of the CBEE climbers attended the conference, which covered all types of waste solutions, from individual pack-out products to moldering toilets.
The proceedings are available for anyone online (www.americanalpineclub.org/p/exit-strategies) and an active Google group continues sharing knowledge of what works among researchers and parks managers.
Protecting water quality in this area is critical as it is the only reliable source of water—from glacial runoff—for the local populations, agricultural irrigation, and the local hydroelectric plant. This is in addition to providing water to arid regions of western Peru. In fact, UNESCO declared Huascarán National Park (HNP) critical enough to be designated the Huascarán Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. HNP is in the Cordillera Blanca, the highest tropical mountain range in the world. “The importance of the site for biodiversity conservation is high” according to UNESCO.
The Mountain Institute observed that Huascarán National Park is the second most popular protected national area destination in Peru after Machu Picchu. Historically, tourism has been the most important economic activity in the region, although recently the mining sector has grown substantially. Data show that tourism in Peru’s second largest source of foreign currency, so the pressures are high to continue expanding tourism resources in the Park.
THE LLACA VALLEY REFUGIO:
Originally built in the 1970’s by the Office of Glaciology and Water Resources, the Refugio was housing for building a safety dam on the lake. Now, for nearly thirty years, the Refugio has been leased to the Peruvian Guides Association as its base for training and testing new guides.
Located at 14,500 feet, the Refugio is just a few hours drive from the city of Huaraz, and has become a well-known destination for hikers and for climbing training by both local guides and international visitors. The Llaca Valley is the location for the technical/practical school for all guides run by the Association of Mountain Guides of Peru. The Refugio is also a camp for the peak Vallunaraju and an increasingly popular lake and glacier day and overnight trip for international tourist/trekkers. During our visit we saw numerous Peruvian visitors who had come up the Valley for the day to see the mountains and glaciers.
To accommodate increasing use, the Park is building new guesthouses in the Llaca Valley that will substantially increase the load on the Park’s resources. There are also numerous campsites nearby, so ready access to park services such as toilets is critical to caretaking this fragile high elevation environment.
Based on environmental observations made as part of a land cover change research project led by Dr. All, the soils are thin and rocky and best support vegetation that is adapted to the high elevation. The climate is dominated by seasonal precipitation with long arid periods during the year. This presents challenges for effective composing, percolation, and dealing with other impacts of human and foraging animal use. The HNP personnel emphasized their commitment to preserving and protecting the environment in the Llaca Valley while accommodating increasing visitor use.
The American Alpine Club was pleased to be asked to assist with the new composting toilet at Quebrada Llaca. We were very impressed by the initiative involved in this endeavor. The toilet building that has been implemented is very effective. However, a few small inexpensive changes will lead to better results in the long run.
Each of these recommendations was discussed with Huascarán National Park staff during our stay at the Refugio and many of them were made in consultation with the people who helped design and build the current facility. Each suggestion will have minimal cost but will greatly improve the efficacy of the facility – especially as visitor numbers grow to this easily accessed and beautiful valley. We will be pleased to provide follow-up assistance to Park personnel in Llaca Valley when we return in 2012.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE COMPOSTING TOILET:
Capacity: The first issue is that several toilets were built in each of the two rooms but the doors can be locked from the inside – often done when people are using the facility. Unfortunately, this means that effectively there are only two toilets even though there are facilities for five people to use the bathroom at the same time if the rooms are unlocked and segregated by sex. We recommend signing the doors to segregate the rooms and then limiting the ability to lock them from the inside so that more than one person can use them at the same time.
Composting effectiveness: Regarding the composting toilets, there are several ways in which these can be improved.
First, the choice of composting material is important. It is most effective to use a pH neutral wood and mix 50% wood chips with 50% duff to increase micro-organism populations in the compost. The excrement to compost ratio should be roughly equal and so there should be a switch to a smaller cup to scoop out the mix than is currently being used. Additionally, a sign should be added that says something to the effect of ‘place only one cup of mix per use’ so that the correct amount of compost mix is added. Finally, the mixture itself currently is too dry to compost effectively. Some water should be added to increase the moisture content or perhaps more urine should be diverted into the mixture.
For the toilet facility as a whole, due to the small area for the compost mixture, a removable container should be placed under each toilet so that the mixture can be removed and thus have more time to be rendered inert in a remote facility – this suggestion was made by Park personnel and is very important for long term success of the facility. A small composting pen should be built near the toilet facility for continued longer-term composting. A wall and shrubs/trees can be used to block this additional area from public view.
The temperature of cooking mixture should be tested weekly to ensure that is remains above 50 degrees Celsius. This will kill any potential biological pathogens in the excrement and compost so that it can safely be used as a nutrient supplement for planting.
Urine separation: Urine is currently separated in the male section of the facility and allowed to pool just below the building. Instead, the urine should be directed down the hill and into a small trough so that sunlight can render it inert. The trough should be far enough away that smell is not an issue and should drain into thick duff during rainfall.
Note: All photos were taken by Ellen Lapham in July, 2011.
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