Cuitláhuac park
Experts assure that care must be taken with the species in the area. (Photo: Courtesy Laurent-Gilles Herbiet Santos)

Last year, the first stage of the Cuitláhuac Park project was inaugurated. It is located in the borough of Iztapalapa and aims to restore the area and create an urban forest.

With 145 hectares recovered from Mexico City’s former garbage dump, it seeks to become the new Chapultepec of the eastern zone.

This first operation includes urban wetlands spanning 8,795 square meters, a hydro-botanical pavilion, and a wastewater treatment plant, according to data provided by Jesús Antonio Esteban Merino, Mexico City’s Secretary of Public Works and Services.

In order to rehabilitate these wetlands, 12,000 meters of reeds were transferred from existing wetlands in Xochimilco. Alejandro F. Alva Martínez, a biologist from the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) who participated in the early stages of this project, says that it’s an initiative aimed at “reactivating existing bodies of water in Mexico City.”

Cuitlahuac park
Cuitláhuac Park (Photo: Courtesy Laurent-Gilles Herbiet Santos)

See more: What is citizen science? We explain how you can join in

Wetlands are vital

The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) defines wetlands as “areas of land that are seasonally or permanently saturated or flooded with water.”

These ecosystems are vitally important since they function as nature reserves that mainly act as regulating reservoirs, which are capable of filtering water into the aquifers and providing a habitat for different species.

Constructed wetlands are green technologies that seek to replicate the functions of natural wetlands. What makes them different is the fact that they use wastewater.

“We’ve recently tried to replicate the composition, structure, and function of natural wetlands through rehabilitation and recovery. The aim of constructed wetlands is to obtain a similar composition with native species,” explains Carlos Galindo Leal, General Director for Scientific Communication at the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO).

One of the main characteristics of wetlands is that they’re highly resilient. As they can adapt quickly, they can adjust to a different ecosystem.

“The potential for creating these wetlands in the Valley of Mexico is very high, since historically –in the case of Cuitláhuac– it formed part of a natural lake in the valley. You can create a great oasis of biodiversity even in artificial or highly modified lakes,” explains Galindo Leal.

Reeds from Xochimilco were transplanted for the construction of Cuitláhuac Park’s wetlands. The water comes from a combined wastewater and rainwater treatment plant that uses organisms to clean the water through biotechnology and then pours it over the wetlands, with a capacity of 10 liters per second.

Help in Iztapalapa

One of the benefits of this type of wetland is that people no longer depend on water trucks to irrigate green areas. “It could do a lot for generating more water in a place where it’s being lost. These constructed wetlands are going to work for Iztapalapa,” says biologist Alva Martínez.

Other advantages are the reduction of local temperature levels, carbon fixation, and increasing humidity through evapotranspiration rates.

As an urban park, the large amount of space helps to create specific zones for all kinds of recreational activities, resting, or green areas.

“The idea of Cuitláhuac Park is to recover the identity of our valley, where we used to have a close relationship with aquatic organisms,” says Carlos Galindo.

Through the wetlands, plants benefit from nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which help clean wastewater.

See more: Exequiel Ezcurra: an old hand at conservation in Mexico

Long-term implications

The budget allocated for this first stage was 235 million pesos for 42 managed hectares, in which more than 200 specialists from different areas took part in coordination with the Ministry of Environment.

Regarding the challenges that the wetlands will face, it’s not just the “budget to create it, but to maintain it, since there are plants that require care to prevent pests and diseases,” says Antonio Lot Helgueras, a researcher from the Institute of Biology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

Similarly, the specialists say that as it’s an urban, social, and cultural recreational park, human activity can create a negative impact. That’s why a culture of care is essential, as is informing people about how it works and its importance to the area.

“The basic principle is education and orientation, as well as people who specialize in the care of wetlands” says researcher Helguera.

So, Cuitláhuac Park went from being a garbage dump to being one of Mexico City’s green technology megaprojects, aimed at recovering areas, improving quality of life, and providing a green lung to the residents of Iztapalapa.