Engineers visit Santa Clara May 2010
On May 12, four EWB-DC engineers, Omo, Corrie, Mike, and Angeline, traveled to the Santa Clara project site in El Salvador. The 5-day trip was an important step in project implementation, in which they assessed the progress of construction of the water system, identified challenges EWB-DC had not been aware of previously, discussed challenging design aspects with the local engineer, and met members of the water committee and the community.
On the morning of May 12, Sean, the Peace Corps volunteer in Santa Clara who is overseeing the project and providing correspondence between EWB-DC and the community, met us at the San Salvador airport and filled us in on the status of the project. After a two hour ride from the airport (half on highway and half on bumpy cobblestone and dirt roads), we arrived in the beautiful rural canton of Santa Clara.
The next morning, we awoke around 5:30 am to the rising sun and the sounds of roosters, cats, cows, and children’s voices. After a delicious Salvadorian breakfast, we hiked to the well site and then to the tank site. Though we had participated in design work on these sites, this was the first time we saw them in person. The tank construction had progressed from a brick exterior to a solid concrete tank, and the community was working on building the roof of the tank. We noticed that the water inlet had been routed to the top of the tank rather than the bottom, as specified in the design. This concerned us because the pump control design centered on a tank inlet at the bottom of the tank. Sean set up a meeting with the local engineer, Orlando Luna, and the representative from the pump distributor for the next day so we could discuss this issue and proceed with ordering the water pump.
Our meeting with Orlando was in San Salvador, so we woke up early and took a two hour bus ride into the capitol. About half a mile from the destination, traffic stopped and the bus was offloaded. As we walked the rest of the way towards our destination, we saw black smoke rising from a burning tire in the middle of the highway and people gathered around with signs. It appeared to be a protest for workers rights and against foreign-owned corporations that was blocking all traffic on the highway. (No, not just a street, but the highway.) We walked about a half mile to meet up with Orlando and did our best to avoid the riot police running up and down streets with shields and tear gas.
The meeting with Orlando and the pump distributor representative, Jose Gonzales, was very productive, and we confirmed and ordered the pump and VFD. Additionally, we had a lengthy discussion about the tank inlet and controls. Orlando explained that it was typical in his experience to have the inlet installed at the top of the tank. We explained that this design did not allow for automatic pump controls to be based on water level in the tank as previously designed. We discussed the two options of 1) moving the tank inlet to the bottom of the tank, or 2) using a float valve and timer as an alternative pump control technology. Moving the tank inlet require drilling another hole into the tank, potentially compromising the tank’s structural integrity, so we ultimately agreed that the alternate means of tank control was the best solution to the situation.
The next day, we visited the central school and found grades 1-5 in session. Mike had lugged a huge box of school supplies and a letter all the way from Arizona as a gift from his children’s school, and we hoped to present it to the children and teachers. The Santa Clara teachers had the children line up in front of us, and Sean translated the letter from the school in Arizona, inviting the school in Santa Clara to begin correspondence with the school in AZ. The kids listened patiently and then scrambled back to their classrooms, while trying to get into every picture we were taking.
Now that we are back in the US, we are refining the designs for the next phase of the project and working to raise funds for materials so the community can complete the distribution system and ultimately have a complete, sustainable clean drinking water system.