Our chapter could not be luckier to work with a more fantastic organization! Common Hope offers multiple life-changing services for the two communities it serves (Antigua and Guatemala). Common Hope’s primary focus is education: not only do their campuses provide kindergarten through high school schooling, but the organization sponsors children by financially and logistically supporting students and their families. Common Hope also provides assistance in housing, and they employ social workers to create an intimate relationship between Common Hope and the families within the surrounding community.
We began our partnership with Common Hope over 3 years ago. Cracks had formed within the lining of the community’s well, causing sediment and other contaminants to enter the campus’ primary water source. Sometimes the sediment contamination was so extreme that the well’s pumps stopped working, leaving the community without flowing water for several days at a time!
In the summer of 2016, a small group of students and our engineering mentor, Peter Kraut, traveled to Guatemala to assess the issues with the well system. We then came back to the US to design a solution. After a year of planning, our chapter then moved forward with an implementation trip. Our team successfully implemented a multi-phase water filtration system. Water coming out of the system has since been tested and it is safe to drink! Furthermore, the system ensures that the campus always has ample water supply, even if the pumps malfunction temporarily. The system is also sustainable, and the community has been properly educated to maintain and operate it.
Our water filtration system was complex and effective. First the water was filtered through micron filters to remove sediment, and then it was run through carbon filters to remove contamination from pesticides. The water then flowed into a large cistern, which was designed to be kept full using a pressure sensor. The cistern was implemented to ensure that the community always had access to a large sum of water even when the pumps fail. The water then flowed from the cistern into more micron filters, and then through a UV filter to remove any bacteria. The whole system was designed with breaking points and test points in case parts need to be replaced or water needs to be tested in the future.
OUR CURRENT PROJECT
After the implementation of our previous project, our chapter was in constant communication with Common Hope. In addition to discussing maintenance questions concerning the system we installed, we also discussed starting a new project. The community essentially gave us a list of projects they still needed to get done and gave us the freedom to choose a project that best fit our club. The engineering team on site had expressed concern regarding the lifetime of their well saying that at the current pace, the well will only be able to support the community’s water needs for another 5-10 years. This seemed like the perfect challenge for EWB-USC to take on. Last fall, we began a new project focused on their reuse of rainwater. The goal of this project is to implement a rainwater storage, filtration, and distribution system to facilitate irrigation of Common Hope’s landscaping and extend the lifetime of their well considerably. In the meantime, the campus and our club has begun gathering the finances needed to install a new well, which is an extremely costly endeavor.
In doing this project we have many objectives to keep in mind. We want to limit the cost as much as possible while at the same create an efficient, easy to maintain and sustain, system. Importantly, we do not want to disrupt the culture of the community. For example, the community has expressed that while a sprinkler system would be an efficient means of distribution, doing so would disrupt the daily life of many Common Hope residents whose job is to water the plants using a hose. Additionally, we do not want to disrupt the structure of the community. Watering the plants accounts for some residents sweat equity hours; some resident have an agreement with Common Hope that they can stay on campus in return for labor. We must additionally ensure that the system is safe. While water flowing through the system may not be consumed, it is still critical to ensure that the water meets agricultural contamination guidelines. Otherwise, humans in contact with the agriculture or any vapor coming off the plants/grass may be at a health risk.
Common Hope already has installed some reuse of rainwater infrastructure. Their current resources include a variety of structures that will be very helpful in our project. The campus currently has over 50 catch basins and manholes that are designated to catch rainfall and prevent flooding, especially during the rainy season. However, much of this water is wasted as it simply seeps into the ground. With our system, we will be able to utilize the manholes and catch basins as well as the runoff from the roof in order to collect water and transport it to several storage tanks. Here, the water will be filtered and ready to use for irrigation for several of the crops on campus.
Common Hope already has installed some reuse of rainwater infrastructure that include a variety of structures that will be very helpful in our project. This past Presidents’ Day weekend, a small group from our project team accompanied by our mentor, Peter Kraut, made a trip to Common Hope in Antigua to assess their current resources, take measurements, and discuss the next steps in our project’s design. On that Friday morning, we touched down in Guatemala at the Guatemala City Airport around 7:30 AM local time. After taking the rest of the morning to rest from our travels, we experienced a traditional lunch provided by the employees of Common Hope assisted by local volunteers. After lunch, we were given a seeing tour of campus to better familiarize ourselves with the space and the work they do at Common Hope. After the tour, we were split into pairs and sent out into the neighboring towns to accompany the social workers on their visits to affiliated families. These visits allowed us to better understand firsthand the poverty that exists in Antigua and the relationship between Common Hope and the affiliates they hold accountable to independently work to better themselves.
The rest of the weekend we mapped out the entire layout of the campus down to the inch. The plans we had for campus did not specify whether the boundaries were the roofs or edges of the buildings, so we measured every building and the dimensions of its roof. Also, we needed to denote the locations of the manholes and catch basins around campus. This task took all day Saturday and much of Sunday and we made about 300 total measurements. In addition, our mentor took us on the roof to inspect the location of the gutters on the roof and how rain would run off of it. Their gutters are indented into the roof rather than the gutters that are usually added to the side of roofs in the U.S. At the end of weekend, we had a group meeting with the head engineer, Josué, and the country director, Rebecca, to come to a conclusion about EWB USC’s implementation goals moving forward.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
Over the rest of last semester and this summer, our project team put together our Post-Assessment and Alternative Analysis Documents. Within the alternative analysis, we had to weigh all of our individual options for each part of the system, and choose the most feasible ones. Our first, and preferred, alternative includes using multiple plastic (fiberglass) tanks in order to store the collected rainwater. The water will flow through the gutters in the roofs to the seepage pits, and the tanks will be located inside the seepage pits in order to store the water with a 1 foot buffer so that any overflow of water would fall safely into the seepage pit and into the water which would still allow for flood prevention. We would then have a pump at the bottom of each tank to put the collected water through a filtration system for irrigation purposes. The planters would receive drip irrigation while the lawns would be sprayed with a garden hose.