Peruvian Glacier Retreat and its Impact on Water Security (Peru GROWS)

Meltwater from glaciers in the Peruvian Andes provides an important and reliable water supply for local and downstream communities for domestic purposes, hydropower, subsistence and commercial agriculture, and industry; and to support rare, high-elevation wetlands and wider ecosystem functioning. However, this long-term, reliable water supply is threatened by increasing temperatures and changing precipitation patterns in the mountainous areas, resulting in shrinking of glaciers and changes in the amount and seasonality of meltwater runoff.

A warming climate is also associated with an increasing frequency of extreme hydrological events, such as floods and droughts. Coupled with the stresses of Peru's rapid urbanisation and economic development, these changes are expected to lead to significant water scarcity, with the potential to inhibit economic growth and degrade vulnerable ecosystems (and the services they provide), which in turn will increase social vulnerability, adversely affect the equitable sharing of resources, increase social conflicts, and destabilise Peruvian societies (from local communities to the large coastal urban centres).

Peru GROWS aims to increase the resilience of Peruvian communities and ecosystems to hydrological changes arising from shrinking glaciers in the Andes. Working in the Rio Santa catchment - the most glacierised catchment of Peru - we will map the current socio-ecological system to identify where, and how, different communities and ecosystems are exposed to risks from water availability.

We will then integrate field measurements and remote-sensing data into physically-based glacier and hydrological models, to simulate the past, present, and possible future changes (to the end of the twenty-first century) to the climate, the glaciers, and to river flows (including amounts, seasonality, and inter-annual variability).

In close partnership with local stakeholders, we will exploit this new knowledge to explore the direct and indirect impacts of projected change in glacier behaviour on different communities in the catchment, with a focus on food security, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and energy production. We will provide information on the current state of the water balance and hotspots of potential water scarcity/trade-offs that can be easily understood by key stakeholders and will provide the basis for adaptation planning at local and regional level.

Key stakeholders and end-users have been closely involved in the design of Peru GROWS and will co-deliver the research. Two key NGOs, with a long history of work in this region (CARE and the Mountain Institute) as well as social scientists at the National Glacier and Mountainous Ecosystems Research Institute and the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, will act as an interface with the local stakeholders, especially vulnerable rural communities.

Together, they will have a key role in co-designing appropriate adaptation strategies for water resources management and agriculture that will create lasting positive impact. With this, we lay a firm foundation from which multiple impacts can emerge during and after the project.


Peru GROWS addresses three of the five challenges outlined by NERC and CONCYTEC in the funding call. In meeting these challenges, Peru GROWS will deliver a wide range of economic and societal impacts, with the main beneficiaries being: Local communities, especially rural Quechua-speaking communities in the Parón, Quillcay and Queshque sub-catchments of the Rio Santa.

We will disseminate evidence from the models about changing water resources and potential future threats in locally accessible language, terms and media. This will help communities understand and accommodate ongoing environmental changes that impact small-scale agricultural production. Community members will participate in the co-production of adaptation strategies to water scarcity (WP4) which will take into account local needs as well as ancestral and local knowledge.

These strategies will help communities build resilience to water scarcity and climate change, seeking to turn risk to opportunity by improving efficiency in the use of water resources in household and agricultural use. As these communities currently face high rates of poverty and low economic opportunity, increased agricultural production through improved water management can have a long-term beneficial impact for village-level economic development.

Working at the interface of science, policy and local needs, the project will contribute to improving water governance in Peru by promoting a closer and more inclusive collaboration between local stakeholders, institutions and academics. Peru GROWS will inform communities, local students, teachers and groups of women around the issues of glacier recession and water security by creating a documentation centre in the Santa catchment (hosted by one of the community groups), which will also give the project greater visibility.

The centre will host an exhibition which will travel to other communities and schools, as well as to venues in Lima. We will develop an educational kit that teachers can use with school children, and work with selected schools on this. Commercial agriculture. The Coastal Plain is the most important production area for agricultural exports with around 200,000 ha of commercial agriculture producing crops for domestic consumption and export.

Farmers, growers and businesses will benefit from increased reliability of water supplies during critical periods of the year which will increase business resilience to climate risks, maintain food security, secure employment and increase foreign exchange earnings from export crops.

Local governance. Beneficiaries include the Regional Government of the Ancash Region, municipalities and mountain communities, the Water Users Boards in the Rio Santa catchment, and the Local Water Authorities for Huaraz, Santiago de Chuco and Santa-Lacramarca-Nepeña. Information on the current state of water balance and hotspots of potential water scarcity/conflicts will support the development of local and regional adaptation strategies to increase food and energy security and to maximise ecosystem services in the face of a changing climate.

Energy/hydropower. More than 40% of Peru's energy production is currently generated by hydroelectric power, with a number of important hydropower plants (Cañón del Pato, 263 MW, and Quitaracsa, 118 MW) located in the Rio Santa catchment. Hydropower plants in this catchment will benefit from improved reservoir practices to mitigate against potential water scarcity and the associated impacts on energy generation. The vulnerability map highlighting current and potential future areas of concern related to water security can be used to advise on the most suitable locations to build new and expanded plants, which are required to meet Peru's growing demand for energy and secure its continued economic growth.

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