In August 2014, ERE students Tom J. Decker (Senior) and Taylor Brown (Sophomore) were led by Professor Ted Endreny to Buena Vista, Yoro, Honduras to extend a community water supply project. ESF has been involved with this project since 2007, with plans, funding, and designs coming from ESF’s Engineering for a Sustainable Society club and Engineers without Borders club, and onsite project coordination from a local NGO called Alfalit International. Due to Honduras suffering from political and criminal instability since 2009, ESF students have had limited travel into Buena Vista, with the last visit in the summer of 2011 (see earlier article).
The purpose of this August 2014 trip was to extend the water supply (i.e., dig trenches, lay pipe) into Los Vegas, a hamlet of Buena Vista, evaluate the existing system of storage and conveyance for needed repairs and flow regulation, as well as sign an updated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Buena Vista water board, known as the Junta de Agua.
Buena Vista is located in the mountains southwest of Olanchito, Yoro. The villagers are mostly farms growing beans, corn, yucca, coffee, fruits, and raising farm animals such as chickens and pigs. The community water supply project has tapped water from a deep pool in a reach of stream far above the community, and gravity delivers the water through a system of iron and PVC pipes extending several kilometers. Before this community water supply was installed, the Buena Vista villagers did not have a continuous supply of clean, potable water, and their water supply had been from a section of stream exposed to animal and human foot traffic and waste, and conveyed through system of weak rubber hoses lying along the foot and vehicle paths. These hoses were prone to puncture, leaks, and contamination, and villagers suffered from water borne illnesses. Further, the water supply was not reliable, with the hoses primarily bringing water during the rainy season (late summer to early winter) and only to a limited number of homes in the community. The community water supply system implemented by the ESS/EWB club has provided approximately 45 families with a clean, reliable source of water in their households for drinking, bathing, cooking and laundry.
The establishment of a Junta de Agua in the community is a standard procedure that is critical for the long-term success of these projects. Giving people in the village leadership roles allows them to look out for their local interests, mobilize others in their community, and through ownership builds a sense of pride and responsibility. This transfer of ownership is a sustainable design concept intended for the community to maintain the system through pay-to-use fees, without being financially or technically dependent on the ESF clubs or Alfalit. Going forward, ESF clubs and Alfalit can partner with the village to undertake major repairs. Fortunately for our ESF clubs, our NGO partner Alfalit has experience establishing Junta de Aguas in other communities, and has helped establish the Junta de Agua in Buena Vista.
Alfalit, our NGO partner, considers the Buena Vista community water supply project one of the most challenging in the region due to long distances for distribution lines connecting the three hamlets. Indeed, this project has faced many challenges funding materials and installing the distribution and supply lines. The work season is short, with no road access to Buena Vista during the rainy season, when roads are washed out. Project momentum and funding was lost in 2009 when Honduras faced a coup d’etat and the club was barred from traveling to the country by EWB-USA, so additional fundraising was needed. It is extremely gratifying that fundraising was successful and this August 2014 we were able to get the remaining construction materials into Buena Vista, and pipe installed in newly dug trenches to Los Vegas.
The MOU signed during the August 2014 trip gave more ownership of the project to the village of Buena Vista. The Junta de Agua was formally given the responsibility of collecting monthly fees from the people using the water supply to cover repairs of materials, system operation, maintenance and protection. The MOU also specified the consequences for people who did not pay the monthly fee or disrupted the water supply system. The MOU established that major technical issues with the water supply will be addressed by Alfalit rather than the ESF clubs, but the clubs can be involved in providing support. The MOU explains how Alfalit will supervise the gradual transfer of management of the community water supply to the community. At the signing of the MOU, the villagers expressed their excitement and gratitude to complete this project and to be taking on more responsibility. The villagers of Buena Vista have been empowered to sustain this new community water supply for their future needs and those of future generations.