Fellow Since 2006
This profile was prepared when Marta Echavarría was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
Marta is designing water protection mechanisms in Latin America by having public and private upstream and downstream water users voluntarily agree to pay above the tariff price to finance watershed protection activities aimed at keeping clean water flowing well into the future, as well as to protect biodiversity. As clean, accessible, and abundant water is threatened by agriculture, urban development and weak public regulations, Marta’s water markets attach a monetary (and environmental) value to water according to the current and future needs of diverse user groups. This “price tag” for water enables farmers, environmentalists, water companies, electric companies, and the government to better understand the value of water, which was historically acquired without cost. With a price agreed to by the user groups based on willingness to pay, the diverse actors can more effectively negotiate the sustainable management of the watershed and the efficient and just distribution of the resource. Marta has facilitated the establishment of water user associations, which put an economic value on the environmental services provided by a healthy watershed and encourage necessary investments in watershed sustainability. She has shown how water can be a powerful unifying force bringing together public and private upstream and downstream communities and users toward a common environmental, economic, and social cause.