Colorado State’s Engineers Without Borders Provides Sustainable Water Solutions to Central American Village

Colorado State University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders will travel to El Salvador in August to implement a sustainable water supply project. The student team visited a village in El Salvador in March and is working with community members to construct the project.

The Colorado State team, consisting of nine students from the engineering and natural resources colleges as well as civil engineering assistant professor Brian Bledsoe and research scientist Lloyd Walker as professional mentors, are working on a project in La Laguneta, a rural village approximately 60 miles southeast of El Salvador’s capital city San Salvador.

La Laguenta’s population is about 1,200 people. For six months out of the year the people of La Laguneta do not have a local water supply. During the dry season, villagers, most often women, walk more than two miles to obtain water. Each family in La Laguneta has access to approximately 10 gallons of water per day during this time.

"This is all the water that each family, normally five to seven people, may use for the cleaning, cooking and bathing each day. In contrast, the average person in Fort Collins will use 150 gallons of water per day," said Gabriel Miller, a civil engineering student on the team. "Not only is La Laguneta lacking an adequate water supply, the quality of the water coming from the wells is contaminated, as indicated by the number of villagers with intestinal problems."

Colorado State’s student chapter of Engineers Without Borders is working with the community to find a way to increase water availability for the village. The team participated in more than 10 meetings with mayors, engineers, village committees and local funding agencies to address the village’s needs.  The team also collected useful information about the community, including what the people of La Laguneta envision for their future.

Some options being considered are to drill further in an existing well, truck water from nearby water supplies, or to build a piping system to provide water. It is the university’s EWB’s goal to incorporate and train the community in all phases of their sustainable project to ensure ownership, appropriateness and long-term effectiveness of their project.

Engineers Without Borders, EWB-USA, is a non-profit organization established in 2000 to help developing areas worldwide with their engineering needs, while involving and training a new generation of internationally responsible engineering students. Projects involve the design and construction of water, waste-water, sanitation, energy and shelter systems. These projects are initiated by the host community, which helps complete the projects and is trained to operate the systems without external assistance. The projects are conducted by groups of students under the supervision of faculty and professional engineers from partnering engineering firms.

By involving students in every step of the EWB process, the program maximizes their learning and awareness of the social, economic, environmental, political, ethical, and cultural impacts of engineering projects. EWB-USA has had projects in Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Thailand, Haiti, Belize, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Peru. Colorado State students are involved in a project in India and are hoping to obtain funding for a project in Nepal.

In June, two Colorado State students and a professional mentor will travel to Purulia, India, working with Fort Collins-based non-governmental organization Village Earth to create clean water supply systems for 51 villages that are severely impacted by drought. Drinking water in the area, located northwest of Calcutta, comes from streams and shallow wells that are commonly contaminated and that often dry up during the dry season. The incidence of water-born diseases is high, particularly among children, many of whom die from diseases and weakened immune systems before the age of five. The Colorado State team will perform ground water reconnaissance and conduct a public health survey in these villages.

Colorado State also is working with Engineers Without Borders at Tribhuvan University in Nepal, entering the Daimler-Chrysler Mondialogo Competition for a 15,000 Euro grant. The two universities submitted a design of improved cook stoves for use in rural Nepal and will travel to Germany this summer for the final round of the competition.