By Adam Kline, Coffee Importer, Atlantic Specialty Coffee Inc.; Andrew Stubblefield, Associate Professor, Humboldt State University; Paul Hicks, Water Resources Coordinator, Catholic Relief Services; Michael Sheridan, Borderlands Coffee Project Director, Catholic Relief Services
Beginning on January 1, 2013, 7,000 families in the city of Matagalpa, Nicaragua had no potable water for two weeks while the municipal water authority cleaned the pipelines. Why? Because their water had been severely polluted by wastewater from coffee mills upstream from the city (El Nuevo Diario 2013).
This case is not an isolated one in Central America. Coffee is a primary source of stream water degradation in coffee growing areas, particularly during the peak harvest season (typically December through February), threatening both the environment and human health. As the global demand for coffee continues to rise, and the specialty coffee industry booms, the industry has a leadership role to play in setting standards and creating incentives for their partners at origin to protect water resources.
This article begins by describing the basic concepts of a watershed, then explains the impact of both (a) coffee production and (b) coffee processing (milling) on water resources, and concludes with suggestions on ways for the U.S. specialty coffee community to protect water resources in the coffeelands.