Bringing clean water to South America

Assessing water quality, surveying mountaintop locations and building systems to catch rainwater — that’s how members of S&T’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders spent their summer break.

Photo courtesy of Engineers Without Borders

Two teams of students traveled to Puerto Pando and Atahuallani in Bolivia, and to Agua Fria, Ecuador, to help provide clean water and sanitation to the areas.

In Puerto Pando, one group assessed a previously completed water system and fixed parts that were in disrepair. They also interviewed community leaders and tested water to evaluate the system’s effectiveness and use.

“The community took a storage tank design that we had built on a previous trip and copied it to build their own tank, which they use for water storage,” says Cade Long, one of the team leaders and a senior in engineering management. “This was amazing to see, as we didn’t provide any guidance in this process, yet they learned from us by watching and studying our design. This felt like a ‘proud teaching moment,’ as seeing their success with no help from us was awe-inspiring and reassured us that our system would be left in good hands.”

That same group then traveled to Atahuallani, Bolivia, a mountaintop community at over 12,000 feet in elevation. They surveyed various locations in topography and collected water samples from local sources. The students focused on gathering information and building relationships with the local community.

“Getting the community in Atahuallani to trust the team is the first hurdle to overcome,” says

Christi Luks, faculty advisor and a teaching professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at S&T. “The community has had a poor experience in the past with an external group, so the S&T team has to show how its work will benefit the community and how past experiences have helped other locations.”

In Agua Fria, Ecuador, team members spent six days working with community members to build a rainwater catchment system and a basic filtration system at a local school. The catchment system will hold 7,500 liters and will give school children year-long access to safe water. The team also taught community members how to implement a similar system on individual homes.

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