Twenty-one students from Missouri University of Science and Technology will bring sustainable, clean water to portions of rural Bolivia this summer. Their goal goes beyond quenching thirsts; for these students, it’s about saving lives. In Bolivia, a lack of clean water contributes to the death of every tenth child before the age of 5.
Two groups of students with the university’s Engineers Without Borders chapter are making the trip this summer. The first group will spend July 3-18 in Erquis Sud, Bolivia, near the city of Tarija in southern Bolivia. The other group will spend July 24 to Aug. 3 in Tacachia, Boliva, a tiny, remote community located in a steep valley south of La Paz.
S&T’s EWB chapter began working with the community of Erquis Sud in 2008. Habitat for Humanity builds shelters – but not utilities – and was constructing a new 100-lot subdivision, named Los Eucaliptos.
Team leader Emily Pasch, a senior in mechanical engineering from Lake Zurich, Ill., says S&T students have spent months designing a water distribution system for the subdivision. The system connects a well to a storage tank and uses PVC pipes to distribute water to houses in the subdivision. The planned well will be dug deep enough to draw clean water that will require little or no treatment. The team will also provide funds to bring electricity to the community to power a submersible pump for the system so that water could potentially be pumped automatically up to the storage tank.
“The project is anticipated to have drastic effects on the health of the community members, particularly infants,” Pasch explains.
In Tacachia, a dozen students will continue efforts to bring drinkable water to the town, which previously relied on a spring at a nearby community for water. The new water distribution system will include two hydraulic ram pumps, two settling tanks, two 2,500-gallon storage tanks, and in-home biosand filters.
“These pumps use the flow rate of the Rio Palca river – not electricity – to divert water from the river up a mountainside where settling tanks will be located,” says team leader Matthew Schultz of Ellisville, Mo., a senior in architectural and civil engineering. “This will lower the suspended solids in the water before it’s sent to the storage tanks. From there, water can be distributed throughout a PVC pipe system to each of the homes.”
Inside each home, a biosand filter will then make the water drinkable.
Last year, S&T students introduced the concept of biosand filtration to the community by installing 10 precast concrete filters. The team also constructed one of the needed ferro-cement storage tanks. Ferro-cement structures are typically strong and inexpensive to build, and made from a wire-reinforced mixture of sand, water and cement.
This year the students plan to build the two settling tanks and 30 biosand filters, using 160-liter plastic barrels for the bodies of the filters. S&T student will also continue to assess the feasibility of constructing an 800-foot-long pedestrian footbridge across the river to provide access to health and educational facilities on the opposing riverbed during the rainy season.
Dr. Rick Stephenson, an EWB advisor and professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at Missouri S&T, will accompany the following students to Erquis Sud, Bolivia:
Students traveling to Tacachia, Bolivia, include:
Three S&T faculty members will also make the trip, including Mark Fitch, associate professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering; Stephanie Fitch, instructor of business and information technology; and David Hoffman, associate research engineer in civil, architectural and environmental engineering.