Archive for the ‘water’ Category

David Zhou, Michel Maupoux, and students from Northwestern reflect on their project of installing water pumps in the Philippines.

Over the past year, a team of students from Northwestern started working on a technology called the hydraulic ram pump.  By communicating with Green Empowerment and Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc (AIDFI), a local NGO in the Philippines, our team slowly began to build up knowledge of the pump and its system. We learned that the ram pump functioned purely as a mechanical system with two moving parts and that it used gravity from falling water to build up pressure and push water uphill. To further experiment with the pump system, we built our own model and received a full-size ram pump body from AIDFI. After learning about some of its minutiae, we began to brainstorm ways to improve the system. One of the main problems with the ram pump is that the waste valve becomes harder to open with increasing size of the pump. Hundreds of pounds of force needs to be applied in order to start a 6 inch ram pump, one of the newest models. Our team designed a lever mechanism that could be affixed to the pump and allow the user to apply the leverage necessary to manipulate a 6 inch pump. At the end of the academic year, four members from the team traveled to the island of Negros in the Philippines to help install and implement a new ram pump system.

The installation crew - tired but content

When I first arrived in the Philippines and went to the construction site, two things immediately struck me. First was the steepness of the hill that led to the source of water. The climb was over 60 meters and by the time I climbed to the top my thighs were burning, my back was drenched with sweat, and I was out of breath. I couldn’t imagine Filipinos, especially kids, having to carry heavy buckets of water up these hills. Second was the amiable nature of the workers. Each worker had to walk 30 minutes a day and needed to brave the unpredictable weather; yet, each of them was cheerful and outgoing. After a couple weeks of building, the ram pump structures near the source were completed and work moved to Tres Hermanos to build the reservoir, line, and tap stands. There, the residents had to endure a similar grueling walk in order to fetch water. During our stay, an auxiliary line was diverted for us from the pump and it soon became a gathering place for the villagers. People came to shower, to wash their clothes, and to fill their water jugs. I was seeing firsthand the impact that clean, running water was having on the community. When the distribution line was finished, tests showed that the pump was delivering twice as much water as predicted, over fifty thousand liters per day! This would provide ample water to the 48 households in Tres Hermanos. Now that I am back in the US, I am so thankful to have had a chance to work on this project with AIDFI and Green Empowerment and my Northwestern teammates. It has made me appreciate the little things in life that we in America take for granted. We will not easily forget the people we met in the Philippines nor the friendships we made.

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Promotional Product Solutions, a Wisconsin based company and active member of 1% For the Planet, learned about Green Empowerment’s community power micro-hydro projects in Nicaragua and featured an article about a trip it funded in part for Presidio Graduate School MBA students in its recent issue of the s.w.a.g.(stuff we all get) journal.

Presidio students toured five Nicaraguan communities with recently completed community power micro-hydro systems,  household solar energy system  and a solar powered clean water delivery system.

Students, in partnership with Green Empowerment and AsoFenix, the  Nicaraguan local partner, will propose and evaluate a business plan and a strategic plan involving integrated carbon financing, fruit cooperatives, new market development, improved cook stove and reforestation projects.

Promotional Product Solutions is just one of several thousand contributing member companies of  1% for the Planet. Using 1% of yearly gross profit, companies contribute to the health and sustainability of the planet by supporting non-profits like Green Empowerment who work on clean, renewable energy and environmental sustainability.  The creative use of funds to involve students will have an amazing impact in the future as their work benefits the immediate environmental concerns while giving experience and meaning to those who will be working on our sustainable future. Green Empowerment is pleased to have these  Presidio students back for a second year as part of an ongoing relationship.

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Jason Selwitz has served with Green Empowerment since 2007.  He is the Director of Service Learning/Program Manager and lived in the Philippines as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1998–2000.  He earned his Master’s in Regenerative Studies from Cal Poly Pomona with focus on the nexus between water and energy issues.  Over the last three years, he has spent much time working with AsoFenix and the communities of the Cerro San Geronimo region of central Nicaragua.  Jason can be reached at: jason@greenempowerment.org

From 2004 through 2009, the Phoenix Association (AsoFenix) and Green Empowerment teamed with four rural farming communities in the municipality of Teustepe in the Department of Boaco, Nicaragua to install solar powered community clean water drinking systems in each village.  The villages of Candelaria (completed in 2004 for 240 people), Potreritos (completed in 2006 for 500 people), Bramadero (completed in 2007 for 240 people), and Sonzapote (completed in 2009 for 480 people) now have water from each system’s main tank fed via gravity directly to each household.  Each household had to construct a latrine to be allowed to receive water plumbed to their home.  All four communities formed their own water committee to manage the operations and monthly maintenance tariff that they alone (not AsoFenix) collected from each household.

Cerro San Geronimo

Since late 2008, AsoFenix and Green Empowerment have begun to work with a fifth nearby village, El Jocote, on organizing and preparing the community to operate and maintain a community water delivery system — slated for installation by late 2010/early 2011 through the generous support of one of Portland’s Jewish congregations, Havurah Shalom.  It is important to realize that the five villages (including El Jocote) encircle a prominent hill named Cerro San Geronimo, and “as the crow flies,” the villages are all within one to three miles distance of one another.  The Cerro San Geronimo region exists within a dry tropical forest zone where rains usually fall between May and the end of November of each year.  During these months, many of the households collect rainwater off their roof to augment needs and reduce stress on the community water system.

El Jocote

Since the end of the 2008 rainy season, whether due to an El Niño/La Niña cycle or the progression of climate change, there have been no significant, sustained rains in the Cerro San Geronimo region.  As a result of the lack of the rain to recharge groundwater supplies, the water level in Bramadero has dropped about 10m.  In the past, during the height of the rainy season, the 40m well in Bramadero was often flush with ground level.  However, at present, families in Bramadero must ration water from the well, rely on smaller hand dug family wells, and in addition, are resorting back to hiking the two-mile distance (one-way) to El Jocote to fetch water, sometimes more than once per day.  The extended drought has alerted the local people, AsoFenix, and Green Empowerment to the immediate and emerging necessity to manage the micro-watersheds of Cerro San Geronimo differently.  The people of Candelaria, Potreritos, and Sonzapote know all too well from the recent past what it is like to subsist on distant, non-potable and/or limited water supplies and do not want to see the levels of water in their wells drop as the well water in Bramadero has.

Rock Wall

Deforestation and soil compaction are environmental issues in the region due to demand for firewood and unsustainable pasturing/agricultural practices.  In the Cerro San Geronimo region, large landowners lease forested land to tenant farmers so they can grow their beans, corn, and millet.  As the tenant farmers clear the land for firewood and to grow their crops for a couple of seasons, the large landowners eventually have a piece of land that they have cleared for free to run their cattle.  When the cattle move in, the tenant farmers are moved and are forced to seek out other lands to lease and clear to grow their crops.  As this cycle continues, so does deforestation and erosion, and correspondingly the ability of water to infiltrate and be captured in the soil is thereby greatly reduced.  At the same time, dehydration, water-borne illness, lack of sanitation/hygiene, and poor nutrition (from a lack of fruits and vegetables) are all prevalent realities.  In order to alleviate these human issues and provide for improved means of water security through rainwater capture when it does rain, more community consultations and work sessions, land use surveys and watershed assessments, hydro-geological studies, training workshops, erosion control practices, firewood reduction initiatives, land use changes, reforestation campaigns, weather monitoring, and economic incentives need to be adopted.  This entire cycle of projects, from community involvement through reforestation efforts, could establish a model for replication in dry tropical forest communities with similar issues.

To begin the process of regeneration, in January 2009, a team of Portland residents and students from Portland State University’s Environmental and Business programs traveled to the Cerro San Geronimo region with AsoFenix and Green Empowerment.  While there, the Portland team installed one solar powered drip irrigation system to water tomatoes, watermelon, and squash; installed one prototype wind turbine; studied micro-hydro and solar water pumping systems; helped install two household solar systems; planted fruit and forest tree species; and learned about shade grown coffee and farmer cooperatives.

In 2010, a second team of Portland residents and students from Portland State University’s Environmental and Business programs focused their efforts in the villages of Bramadero and El Jocote to conduct a land use survey and watershed assessment of the two neighboring communities/micro-watersheds, as well as, install a weather station in each community.  Through the process, the Portland team tried to answer the question of why El Jocote, a community within only two miles of Bramadero, appears to have more abundant surface and groundwater resources than Bramadero.  The answer may lie in part to: 1) the placement of the wells in relation to the local hydro-geology; 2) El Jocote residents’ philosophy of “water is life and trees help capture and store water”; and/or 3) their related practice of leaving more forest cover in the riparian zones of drainages that have naturally occurring springs, hand dug wells, and retention dams/infiltration basins called “pilas.”  The differences between Bramadero and El Jocote’s “water security” practices were stark, yet El Jocote’s still has room for improvement.

Hand Dug Well

Through the help of students and supporters in Portland, we are beginning to understand the complex relationships between human activity, culture, hydro-geology, land use, forest cover, soil quality, water practices and demand, and rainfall.  We realize the health of the Cerro San Geronimo watersheds, the people of the region, and the climate are interdependent and we see an opportunity to develop and implement a model for water security and an improved standard of living.  This model will integrate environmental monitoring, rainwater harvesting training workshops, interviews regarding traditional ecological knowledge, compiling rainwater harvesting research from around the world, further hydro-geological study, reforestation activities, and action.  Through this comprehensive approach, the Cerro San Geronimo region, and other dry forested regions in the world, can adopt and replicate sustainable practices to secure needed water resources.

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The Sacred Valley is full of paradoxes. Stunning vertical landscapes. Tourism and a hippy mecca. Andean Waldorf schools. And grinding poverty…

I first meet up with Sandra and Sandy: two good natured, down-to-earth Canadians who are volunteering in Peru. Sandra with Kuasay Wasi Clinic (http://kausaywasi.org/) and Sandy with DESEA, Desarrollo en Accion (www.deseaperu.org), Green Empowerment’s new partner in implementing a project to improve health through household water filters. With the exciting news from the Metabolic Studios of Annenberg Foundation, the project finally has the resources to really get off the ground. I am in the Sacred Valley to see the team of DESEA, meet the communities and work out the logistics of the new grant.

Ricardinia, the newly-hired field manager, took us out to the communities: Totora, Accha Pampa and Chaipa. While at about 4000 meters (13,000 feet) themselves, they were nestled in valleys with the surrounding peaks towering at the aching heights of 5000 meters (16,400ft). Ricardinia grew up a day’s walk from the closest road, in some hidden village in these sacred hills. She left for high school and trained to be a teacher. She heard the radio ad for the DESEA field manager and was hired on. She is a huge asset as she is the main cultural and linguistic bridge to the poor communities.
In Totora we met Gregorio, the filter workshop manager, who was the young mayor of this adobe village. He was dressed in western clothes and spoke in fluent Spanish with a Quechua accent that made round words sound like triangles. He had attended the CAWST (www.cawst.org) training as is a devotee of the biosand filters that he builds everyday. We caught him with a bundle of wire mess as he was heading to Pampallacta to repair the school’s filter.

When they saw Sandra arrive in Totora, a group of women gathered for a “clinic” (not a building, but an event). They squatted on the ground and unwrapped their bundles of brightly woven cloth to reveal children that needed a nurse’s eye.
We met a woman and her baby that had lost a dangerous amount of weight from diarrhea. She had taken her to the Kuasay Wasi clinic where she was given a dehydration solution. By the time I met the baby, she had gained back some weight and looked like she would survive, but it drove home the point that simple hygiene and clean water are the most important things we can do to save children’s lives.

These communities speak almost no Spanish. They maintain the poetic Quechua language and traditions alive. Everyday clothes look like a celebration, with dozens of buttons on the wrists arranged like pearls on an evening gown, and big flat round hats covered with ornate red cloth that dangled over the edge.

And yet, illiteracy, isolation, discrimination and malnutrition have taken their toll. Sandra describes meeting a woman who could not remember how many of her children had died; was it 5 or 6? I hear stories of a toddler eating paint, excessive alcohol and spouse abuse. I don’t see this kind of malnutrition where I live in Cajamarca, where rural people have few resources, but plenty of food, although both areas show signs of protein deficiency, with a diet based on rice and potatoes.

In Totora and Accha Pampa, we walk into the tiny dark kitchens, covered in soot, to see the filters. Ricardinia translates from Quechua. The people we met said they used the filters daily and even said that they had noticed an improvement in health of the children. They understand that the filters clean. The filters are made in one of the project communities out of local materials. The concrete structure is filled with sand and gravel which effectively remove pathogens.
biosand filter

Ricardina, Gregorio and the team say that everyone wants a filter. But once they have it, there are some (perhaps 15%) who don’t use it. Do they want it just because it’s a new thing to have in their home? It’s modern and different? Daily habits run deep too, thousands of years deep. And introducing some new-fangled things into those daily patterns is a hard thing to do. Even when you know it’s good for you. I know I should floss every day, but I don’t. It seems that here, the filter use and health education is not a secondary complement of filter installation, but needs to be at the core of the program.

school water

This pipe, from a dirty open sink hole, delivers water to schoolchildren

We surveyed the existing water sources. In Totora, there is “agua entubada” (piped, but not potable, water) that just comes from an open river, above which the animals graze… Kids drink from water that comes from an open sink hole near the school. Other communities have gravity-fed water systems that deliver spring water to some of the houses, but not to others.

Sandy has a kit to test for total coliforms and fecal coliforms, which are indicators of unsafe drinking water. The streams have lots of fecal coliforms, the sealed water spring water distribution systems are clean and the filtered water is clean. However, this has shown several of the systems are not working properly and need to be fixed (the sand was not fine enough and the water passes too quickly). This monitoring tool helps them adjust the filter fabrication.
lab test
The complex social and cultural environment will pose plenty of challenges, but also makes the need for the health and water program all the more evident. With the support of Metabolic Studios of Annenberg Foundation, 150 filters will be built and installed. Most importantly, workshops on health and hygiene will be integrated into the program and health promoters trained from the communities. Something so simple can save a life. After spending time with the DESEA team and going to the communities, I am optimistic that this partnership has what it takes.

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