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Potential contributions of pre-Inca infiltration infrastructure to Andean water security


Water resources worldwide are under severe stress from increasing climate variability and human pressures. In the tropical Andes, pre-Inca cultures developed nature-based water harvesting technologies to manage drought risks under natural climatic extremes. While these technologies have gained renewed attention as a potential strategy to increase water security, limited scientific evidence exists about their potential hydrological contributions at catchment scale. Here, we evaluate a 1,400-year-old indigenous infiltration enhancement system that diverts water from headwater streams onto mountain slopes during the wet season to enhance the yield and longevity of downslope natural springs. Infiltrated water is retained for an average of 45 d before resurfacing, confirming the system’s ability to contribute to dry-season flows. We estimate that upscaling the system to the source-water areas of the city of Lima can potentially delay 99 × 106 m3 yr−1 of streamflow and increase dry-season flows by 7.5% on average, which may provide a critical complement to conventional engineering solutions for water security.

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Fig. 1: Spatiotemporal variability of precipitation in the Peruvian Andes.
Fig. 2: Conceptual model of the pre-Inca infiltration enhancement system.
Fig. 3: Spatial distribution of the infiltration system and monitoring experiments.
Fig. 4: Time series of rainfall, streamflow and tracer emergence in springs.
Fig. 5: Potential contributions of pre-Inca infiltration infrastructure to Lima’s water supply.

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Data availability

Data from the hydrological monitoring of catchments C1 and C2 are described in Ochoa-Tocachi et al.58 and available from Data Citation 1 therein and in the Supplementary Information (Supplementary Data 1). The data consist of the original time series of rainfall and streamflow and physical characteristics and hydrological indices of the monitored catchments. The data from the dye-tracer experiments are provided in Supplementary Tables 2 and 3. The data from the long-term rainfall stations, Huamantanga and Chosica and Rimac river flow were provided by SENAMHI and ANA and are included here with permission67 (Supplementary Data 2 and 3).

Code availability

Calculations were implemented using custom code in MATLAB R2018b (v.9.5). The scripts are available on


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Special thanks to the people of Huamantanga and their authorities for providing constant participation, support and consent to our work. The paired catchment monitoring and the infiltration system restoration were set up thanks to funding from The Natural Capital Project, CONDESAN, Alternativa NGO, AQUAFONDO and TNC. We thank SENAMHI, ANA and iMHEA for the hydrometeorological data provided. We acknowledge funding from UK Research and Innovation (NERC grant no. NE/K010239-1) and the Natural Infrastructure for Water Security Project funded by USAID and the Government of Canada. B.F.O.-T. was funded by an Imperial College President’s PhD Scholarship and the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet DTP (UKRI NERC grant no. NE/L002515/1). W. Lavado and F. Vega-Jácome provided useful information for the interpretation of regional hydrometeorological data. A. Butler and C. Hackshaw provided helpful comments on the manuscript. Fig. 2 was developed with help from Soapbox Communications Ltd.

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B.F.O.-T., B.D.B., K.P., L.A., J.G.-R., G.G. and W.B. designed the research approach. B.D.B., K.P., L.A., J.D.B., J.A., J.G.-R. and O.A. designed the experiments. J.D.B., J.A., K.P., J.G.-R., O.A., F.M., Z.Z. and S.G. performed the experiments and fieldwork. B.F.O.-T., J.D.B., J.A., W.B. and B.D.B. analysed the data. B.F.O.-T. and W.B. developed the modelling approach. W.B., B.D.B., G.G. were principal investigators of research projects that funded this work. B.F.O.-T. and W.B. wrote the paper with further contributions from all authors. All authors were involved and participated in the discussion of ideas, read and approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Boris F. Ochoa-Tocachi.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Figs. 1–8, Supplementary Tables 1–8, Supplementary References

Supplementary Table 9

Record of interviews and meetings with local community members as part of the social science research in Huamantanga

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Ochoa-Tocachi, B.F., Bardales, J.D., Antiporta, J. et al. Potential contributions of pre-Inca infiltration infrastructure to Andean water security. Nat Sustain 2, 584–593 (2019).

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