Thursday, August 20, 2009

chilis & a road trip

Guest Blogger: Ben (we're hoping he starts making regular appearances!)

While I came to Guatemala thinking that there is an abundance of water and supplies are renewed every day when it rains (like now), I have to say that things aren’t as they appear. Yes, there is water and it is usually piped to homes or chorros (fill stations), the reality is it usually doesn’t flow 24 hrs/day, nor it is safe to drink. And when it does rain the drainage here is usually overwhelmed and sewers overflow, garbage is washed with it, and what flows to the river is a supply for someone else. We go to great lengths in the states to separate sewer water from rivers, pipe storm water and detain in ponds, and have extensive treatment systems to remove contamination. Here these systems don’t exist and clean purified drinking water is a luxury to most. That being the case, most Guatemalans boil water to purify it before drinking especially in rural areas. Storage tanks or cisterns are used to store water from the street or a chorro so that there is a consistent water supply for internal home plumbing (if it exists).

So a few weeks ago we (myself, Juan, & Dani from our office & another engineer Borys) went to visit 3 communities that have interested church partners in new water systems. We spent a lot of time driving to these communities to look at the building space available to install new water purification systems. The short of it is that without an Aguas De Unidad system there would not be a purified drinking water supply available locally without purchase of water bottled in the city and driven to the community for re-sale. The farthest community is 5 hours from the city if you have a Guatemalan driver and good roads…Juan our driver set out to make a speed record so we could go and return to the city in the same day.

What I like about the Healing Waters model is it supplies a need (water) to a community using a community resource (the church) with sustainability as the focus. Yes, we could use donor funds to build a large central bottling plant and deliver water to the communities, especially those that are in the city, but that would do little to empower a church partner to reach out to the community nor employ locals to run and operate the systems. We wouldn’t be able to sell the water either for the same price (Q5 = $0.60 USD for 5 gallon garrafon) since we would need to add a transport cost to cover gas for a truck and the driver to deliver the water.
So what may seem like an “underdeveloped” water system in comparison to US standards, actually works really well from a sustainability standpoint. The non-renewable energy inputs are minimal once the treatment equipment is purchased and installed. The untreated water supply is usually from the municipality or a pipa (water truck) that makes rounds in the community to fill household storage tanks. Most encargados (water system employees) walk to their job or live at the church, and community members usually wheel a stroller or cart to the system to fill their garrafones.

I was talking to Juan the other day about the enormous amount of energy (and regulations) that we have in the States for this same process: from storing large amounts of untreated water and piping it to reservoirs for treatment in advanced plants, to distributing it in extensive piping networks so that we as Americans can use to flush toilets, take showers, run dishwashers, wash our cars, and water grass. All this water is treated to drinking water standards but I am guessing that less than 1% is actually consumed or used for cooking.
Not to say that this isn’t what is good for the States, but I think we are going about it backwards – that is, expending a lot of non-renewable energy to treat water to such a high standard and using it to grow Kentucky bluegrass in Colorado.

To learn more about the communities where these ADU systems will be installed in Guatemala, stay tuned…below are pictures from the trip to Tejutla. We had to pass through Xela where Krista and I studied Spanish so I felt a little pride in being the guide who picked the breakfast joint, Cafe Baviera II, where we did our Spanish homework just about every afternoon.

Guatemalan breakfast before the trip: chile rellenos, fresh tortillas, and black beans

Water nerds!

Hanging in the park in Tejutla: me, Dani, and Borys

Ah, the stupid things we do to pass the time before another 5 hours in the car


aaron said...

excellent post ingeniero!! sounds like a fun adventure, though 10 hours in the car in one day sounds brutal. un abrazo!

Borden said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Krista & Ben said...

Thanks Susan! We appreciate your following and hope to hear from you again soon!