TRURO - Going to Bolivia as part of a team to improve the country's water situation was both an eye opening and rewarding experience for Terry Matheson.
He and Andrew MacKinnon, Truro's director of public works, were part of a delegation working with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) to assist with the development of a water program in a town called Cliza.
"Cliza is in a high valley and they have a very dry climate," explained Matheson. "During the last 10 years, the water table dropped five metres because of overuse and poor irrigation. If we get it stable we can head off potential shortages."
Because the group going on the trip didn't have a hydrogeologist, Matheson was approached to make a presentation. He traveled to Bolivia in June - his expenses were covered but he volunteered his time for the eight-day expedition.
"We wanted to help (Bolivians) quantify the water potential of the area and use best practices for irrigation, as well as educate them on better cash crops. Currently, corn is king and the market is saturated. Carrots, potatoes and peppers grow fairly well so we hope to get them to diversify."
Bolivia's rainfall is about a third of Nova Scotia's accumulation, which falls during one season.
Matheson, who had worked in West Africa, was surprised by the level of development, sense of political engagement and relative wealth of the people in Bolivia.
The delegation he was with in Bolivia held a workshop and a program was assembled for a baseline study on the groundwater system. Masters and Bachelors programs at St. Simon University in Cochabamba will help educate people on water, and agronomy and PRODII, which works with the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada, will educate farmers.
"These people just need more partnerships and help in key areas," he said. "They have an educational system in place and working. In five or 10 years they shouldn't need help. They're trying to see that what they do is sustainable when it comes to food production and water resources. These people are ready to co-operate. They're engaged on the ideas we presented and what has been put in place."
He said water resource evaluation is ongoing and the next step is to get things agreed upon, funded and executed in the coming year. People also need to look at look at economic development and ensure there is a market for a crop before they begin growing.
Matheson even affected the dress of the area, handing out several Bearcats and Tim Hortons T-shirts to children in Cliza during his visit.
Truro was partnered with Cliza through a Municipal Partners for Economic Development program and the FCM works with an organization of municipalities called FAM in Bolivia.