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Clean Water for Nicaragua - Student Series 1

Friday, Dec. 9, 2011
Hilda Garcia, Kyle Magazu, Lizzie Mercado, Agustine Perez, and Lisa Yabusaki are senior civil engineering majors and Roelandts Fellows at SCU.  Their senior design project will focus on designing a water distribution and sanitation system for the area of Sabana Grande in Nicaragua.
Clean, potable water is a privilege that many communities are currently lacking.  In this day and age and with all the science and technology available to us, it is hard to believe that such a basic necessity is so difficult to come by.  Although rain is abundant and the water table is high in the area, there is a high incidence of child mortality due to unsanitary water.  In the past, various designs have been attempted and implemented in the region, but periodic flooding and difficulties coordinating the maintenance of systems make it difficult to find a sustainable solution to the lack of potable water.
We will be looking into designing a pump and well system which will implement a solar-powered pump, a reinforced concrete storage tank, a pipeline network for distribution, and looking into measures for water quality and sanitation including waste disposal and resource recovery.  For our system, we will also look into alternative methods and designs to withstand the periodic flooding of the area and fit into the lifestyle of the community in which our design may be implemented.  We will also look into technologies that have been attempted and implemented in the region to help guide our design, such as pump and well designs and alternative components like water catchment systems.
Coming from a small Jesuit university that prides itself on its service to the underprivileged, we feel that we have been equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge from our civil engineering curriculum at Santa Clara to go into the world to make a difference and serve those who are often forgotten.
Why We’re Doing It
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, but it is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  In rural areas, there is a major lack of access to potable water.  Often, women and children have to walk long distances to wait in line for water from a contaminated source.  This is a problem because having to spend so much time for something as simple as water keeps them from going to school and perpetuates a cycle of poverty.
Although Nicaragua has an abundant supply of water, it is prone to periodic flooding and most areas lack a sanitation system.  The surface water that the impoverished communities do have access to are often contaminated with pesticides, runoff, and waste from humans and animals.  This makes it unsafe as a primary water source. 
In many areas, wells are dug and the groundwater sources are tapped into as they are somewhat protected from the surface contaminants.  Conservation and sustainability is not a natural part of the culture, however, and it is especially lacking in the rural areas.  Industrial deforestation coupled with individuals chopping down trees for use in their homes contributes to a growing problem with the water sources available to them.  Deforestation increases the runoff experienced during the flood season and decreases the amount of recharge to the groundwater aquifers.  In other words, it reduces the amount of water going back into the ground and is thus slowly depleting the groundwater supply.
Possibly the most disconcerting issue that we have come across is the lack of a sanitation system in many areas in Nicaragua.  Without proper disposal of wastewater, providing clean water is pointless.  Wastewater, if not treated or disposed of properly, has the potential to contaminate all water sources.   This is why our project will encompass everything from retrieving water from a source to taking care of it after it is used.
What We Have Done So Far
After deciding to design a water distribution and sanitation system, we needed to find a specific site to design for.  We had initially made contacts in the Lower Rio Coco area, who gave us some great insight into some of the general problems of rural Nicaragua.  From there, we consulted our professors who had recently visited UCA (Universidad Centroamericana) this past summer.  They were able to put us into contact with a UCA representative, who has been very supportive of our project. 
Later, we got the opportunity to meet Susan Kinne of Grupo Fenix.  She was also extremely supportive of our project and proposed a community that would greatly benefit from our project, if it was ever implemented.  One unique point about this community was that the people there were familiar with photovoltaic technologies as they manufacture their own solar panels and utilize solar cookers in their communities.  Ultimately, this pointed us in the direction of Sabana Grande, Nicaragua, the site for which we are designing our project.
Where We Are Now

Because our Senior Design Project will be focusing on a design in an undeveloped area, we must conduct a great deal of research to create an efficient and feasible design.  We have received a generous grant from CSTS (Willem P. Roelandts and Maria Constantino-Roelandts Grant) and funding from the Dean of the School of Engineering (Senior Design Project Fund) to do research for our Senior Design Project.  On Sunday, December 11, Lizzie, Kyle, Hilda, and Agustine will be arriving in Managua, Nicaragua, where they will continue on to Sabana Grande.  There, they will be staying with host families in the village and they will conduct the necessary research for the development of our design.  We are hoping to share our experiences and design process with you through this blog. 

Tags: grants, Roelandts


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