By Tom Miller

Following Mayor Tom Bates and State Senator Loni Hancock’s December visit to Palma Soriano, Berkeley’s sister city in Eastern Cuba, plans are afoot for a community-built clean water solution for the entire city of 80,000 people.

For the past decade, UC Berkeley researchers have traveled to Palma to work with the community to develop a plan which will blend the deeply spiritual Afro-Cuban based affinity to land and nature with a low-tech, low cost green field sewage treatment plan. The people of Palma’s roots stretch back to Haiti when French slave owners brought slaves to Eastern Cuba when they fled Haiti’s slave rebellion over 200 years ago.

The proposed sewage plan would direct the raw sewage that now drains into the Cauto River into a series of ponds containing special plants that remove toxins and sediment, providing clean water for reforested areas and organic vegetable gardens and orchards.  The same approach effectively cleaned Havana’s main river, the Almendares, at a fraction of the cost of modern sewage treatment plants.

Nelson and grandaughter
A miniaturist artist and his granddaughter. Photo: TT Nhu

The proposal is fairly straightforward, but requires support. As Cal landscape architecture and environmental planning professor Matt Kondolf says in a short film about the city and its people, made by Cuban documentary filmmaker Carlos Betancourt: “These are the things that we did in the US 100, 150 years ago. It doesn’t require highly sophisticated analysis  but it does require a systematic approach. And we would need some funding from internatioanl foundations or other sources.”

A key factor in the implementation of the plan, which will be ready by May, is getting the go-ahead from the US government. Washington continues to impose an embargo prohibiting humanitarian cooperation with the Cuban government. By administering the project through Cuba’s foremost environmental NGO, the Antonio Núňez Jiménez Foundation, and Palma’s independent cultural/social organization, Ennegro, it is hoped permission for this project will be granted by the White House.

Local Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who has long advocated reconciliation between the two countries, has promised her support

Mayor Bates and Senator Hancock, along with UC Berkeley river restoration experts, will describe the Palma Soriano project at a “Report Back” on Sunday Feb. 24, at 1 p.m. at Redwood Gardens, 2951 Derby St. Berkeley. Betancourt will present his short film which he is currently completing in Berkeley. The public is invited.

Tom is president of Green Cities Fund, which is raising funds for the Sister City/UC Berkeley sponsored clean water project in Palma Soriano.

Tom Bates and Loni Hancock visit sister city in Cuba [12.31.12]

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