At least 11% of the Pantanal Headwaters need to be restored

setembro, 14 2023

Percentage was revealed in studies that analyzed how to enhance water regulation and erosion control in the landscape
The Pantanal Headwaters, home to about 80% of the waters that supply the Pantanal plain, thus enabling the conservation of biodiversity and the ecological and economic processes of the region, need urgent and coordinated actions. Unpublished studies have identified that it is necessary to intervene in at least two million hectares – or 11% of the landscape, equivalent to approximately 2.5 times the size of the municipality of Campo Grande – to achieve the best cost-benefit in restoration implementation, enhancing erosion control and water regulation, fundamental ecosystem services to increase the quantity and improve the quality of water in the territory.

According to the modeling carried out by the researchers, the improvement in water quality could be perceived in places where at least 2.5% of the landscape was target of sustainable actions, such as restoration on river banks and springs, soil conservation and adoption of best agricultural practices - such as fencing springs to avoid cattle trampling and building level curves to increase rainwater infiltration. On the other hand, the increase in water volume could be observed after intervention in at least 20% of the landscape. Portions of the Jauru sub-basin and Poconé micro-basin, in Mato Grosso, and the Miranda sub-basin and Guariroba stream basin EPA (Environmental Preservation Area), in Mato Grosso do Sul, were also analyzed. 

“The recovery of the Pantanal Headwaters is urgent and worth the investment for several reasons”, says Veronica Maioli, conservation and restoration specialist at WWF-Brazil. “In addition to being fundamental for soil improvement and maintenance of water resources in the region, the activity also generates work and income and favors the food security, culture and well-being of the local population”, she adds.

The Pantanal Headwaters, an area that covers 85 municipalities and 16 sub-basins in part of the States of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, has about 3 million inhabitants. These people depend daily on the water born in the region to live. Although the name refers to the neighboring biome, 84% of the landscape is in the Cerrado, which has already lost half of its original coverage, pressured mainly by the unsustainable expansion of agriculture. 

The data are worrying. MapBiomas platform 2021 numbers indicate a loss of about 25% of the wetland area in the Pantanal Headwaters, as well as an alteration of 58% of the territory due to human action and the growth of 47% of soybean cultivation in the region in the last decade. These are significant transformations that influence the climate crisis as they contribute to intensify the occurrence of extreme events, such as prolonged droughts and intense rains, and decrease resilience in the landscape: that is, the ability of the environment to cope with negative impacts and recover naturally.

Technical leader of “Clean Water for All”, a project developed by WWF-Brazil in the Pantanal Headwaters in partnership with Aegea, a leading company in the private sanitation sector in Brazil, Veronica points out that the engagement of the local population is one of the axes of the work that has been carried out. “The proposal in this first year of partnership with Aegea was to produce studies that would provide robust technical subsidies to direct practical actions in the landscape, which is a priority for WWF-Brazil mainly due to its water potential and status of degradation and deforestation. But for recovery to happen from now on, we need to involve and strengthen all links of the restoration chain".

Public authorities, private companies, the population, universities, rural producers and civil society organizations need to converge. “We operate on the basis of scientific knowledge and facts, oriented towards results. We know that in order to achieve such promising transformations, we need to work together”, underlines Daniela Teston, Director of Corporate Relations at WWF-Brazil. “Therefore, we seek to partner with organizations that are committed to the socio-environmental agenda and want to co-finance the recovery activities of such a strategic territory for society".

Active restoration techniques 

However, the recovery of the Headwaters is not so simple, as at least 42% of the landscape has low potential for natural regeneration, which makes it essential to use active restoration techniques and to involve all sectors of society. “In Mato Grosso do Sul, for example, several techniques using seedlings and seeds have been employed in the Permanent Protection Areas in the Guariroba stream EPA, a water-producing region that supplies the city of Campo Grande”, says Veronica.

“Recovering the springs is essential to avoid silting up the rivers and to produce more water and of better quality”, says Claudinei Menezes Pecois, president of the Association for the Recovery, Conservation and Preservation of the Guariroba Basin (ARCP), WWF-Brazil's partner in this project. “Without this work of harmonizing nature, water will not sprout, because there is a whole cycle for that… and it involves plants, nature care. All is interconnected".

The agronomic engineer Elizene Vargas Borges, CEO of Ipê Agroambiental and professor at the UniBRAS Agronomy College, in Mato Grosso, reinforces: “recovering the riparian forest is a guarantee not only of more water and less evaporation, but also of soil preservation”. Of the river basins present in the Pantanal Headwaters, the Jauru, where Elizene works in partnership with WWF-Brazil, is the fifth with the largest extent of degraded PPAs – about 15,450 hectares. According to the Jauru River Basin Committee, of the 100 springs mapped by the project, only five are in the process of recovery so far. 

“The Jauru Basin colonization focused on livestock, with constant trampling of the soil and a lot of water loss”, says Elizene. “Adding that to a fragile, sandy soil, without any plant protection, results also in its loss due to silting. But today, the farmers with whom we operate understand that reforestation increases water availability, not the other way around. The system has to be sustainable in order to produce, searching for balance, because, without water and soil, there is no way to produce anything”.

Partnership with Aegea 

The strengthening and expansion of technical knowledge on restoration are fundamental to create the necessary conditions for the restoration of the Pantanal Headwaters. For this reason, WWF-Brazil has been investing in activities with several partners in the region. For Édison Carlos, president of the Aegea Institute, it is important to support initiatives that guarantee more water resilience and water quantity and quality in the landscape. “Having this premise in mind and partnering with WWF, a nationally and internationally recognized entity, makes us greatly proud and certain that together we will find solutions to not only deliver water to people, but also ensure that such a basic resource reaches everyone”, he says.
Unpublished studies have identified that it is necessary to intervene in at least two million hectares
© WWF-Brazil/Silas Ismael
MapBiomas platform 2021 numbers indicate a loss of about 25% of the wetland area in the Pantanal Headwaters
© WWF-Brazil/Silas Ismael
Public authorities, private companies, the population, universities, rural producers and civil society organizations need to converge
© WWF-Brazil/Silas Ismael