In what might be an indication of warming relations and cooperation, the Cuban Government has committed over one million dollars in Cuban currency to a project designed by UC Berkeley river restoration experts to help restore Cuba’s longest river, the Cauto.

The project will divert sewage from Berkeley’s “Sister City,” Palma Soriano, from polluting the Cauto River, into a series of ponds which will clean the water using gravity, the sun, aeration and natural cleaning methods. Safe but nutrient rich water will then empty into organic farms and forests, which will be developed in cooperation with local farmers by a sister project, Cocina Abierta. Cocina Abierta began in December of 2012 when chefs trained at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse Restaurant traveled to Cuba to spend several weeks devising meals with Cuban chefs and visiting local organic farms. Numerous chef visits have occurred since then, including one by chef and food expert Narsai David.

The river restoration project was designed by UC Berkeley Professor Matt Kondolf and Chilean-born former graduate student, Daniela Pena Corvillon, in cooperation with the local community and Cuban environmental experts. Commenting on the project, Corvillon stated: “This is a very important project since Palma Soriano is located at the headwaters of the

“This is a very important project since Palma Soriano is located at the headwaters of the Cauto,” said Corvillon. “It is key to protecting the entire watershed.” “Also, “the Palma project will serve as an example of how low-cost sewage treatment is possible for poor communities around the world.”

The Palma Soriano Project was spearheaded by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and State Senator Loni Hancock who visited Palma Soriano (at their won expense) in December of 2012. Both the Palma Project and Cocina Abierta are sponsored by Green Cities Fund, a local non-profit organization which has developed other projects in Cuba, Vietnam and elsewhere. (Disclosure: Miller is a co-founder of the Green Cities Fund.) The United Nations Development Fund is expected to provide technical support as well.

On the U.S. side, Green Cities Fund is in the process of raising an additional $250,000 needed for the project. The Palma Soriano and Cocina Abierta projects are possible because of President Obama’s new Cuba policy which allows humanitarians to operate in Cuba without having to be approved by the U.S. Government. More information, including a short film on the Palma project, can be found on the Green Cities website:

Berkeley to help sister city in Cuba with clean water plan (02.08.13)
Tom Bates and Loni Hancock visit sister city in Cuba (12.31.12)

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Tom Miller is an attorney and co-founder of the Green Cities Fund.

Tom Miller is an attorney and co-founder of the Green Cities Fund.