Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pasmata Water Project - Progress Update 8/27/2011

We made some great progress over the past six days. Of the aforementioned goals, we accomplished, or at least started hacking away at them in the following ways, and some:


Meeting with Somoto Rotary Club: This one is kind of a biggie, since Travis and Fran├žois have been in contact with Local Rotary folks in Boulder and Denver, and are waiting to hear from local Nicaraguan Rotarians, and as was mentioned earlier, are interested in donating as a group if all ducks are in a row, and communication exists as to what the full details of the project entails. We made some great steps with this, however, after having called Ivonne in Somoto, who sharply told us that we needed to provide a report to her until Karla and I could have any face time. Loved hearing the conversation, Karla shortly after commented that Ivonne was dura, i.e. a hard lady. But this hardness is warranted, and requires us to do work that we needed to do anyway. The details put in the report thus far are shown below, the report is nearly completed and includes description of the project history and need (Karla’s part), with a project budget, donor needs, water quality tests, and a simple map outlining the tentative pipe sizes and routings.

Preliminary design of system and associated budget for an understanding of donor needs: After spending a few days looking over the Nueva Esperanza water project designs, and reading up on gravity fed water systems from a variety of sources, I came up with some preliminary designs based on the topographic mapping we did last week. I drew hydraulic grade lines for each pipe size estimate (2” for the conduction line and 1.5” (PVC) for the distribution line, while the main vanes within the town will be 1” and 0.5” PVC or hosing, depending on the house location. From this point it was possible to estimate major and minor head losses (where major head loss by friction was the main player in head loss), and based on GPS mapping, was possible to estimate the number of 6m PVC pipe was needed for each section, and based on hypothetical distribution tank and rock/sand filter placement. I also used some pretty basic sketches of the dimensions of the constriction at the Piedra’s source, which would utilize some of the gigantic boulders as a foundation, and the constriction as a damn with concrete and rebar (Travis has a great sketch up of this that his wife Laura drew. Mine was just drawn in my field book when I took some rough measurements during my first visit of the source. I am going to have to visit this place a few more times before I can feel confident with this design, and need to talk with some geotec folks about using rocks for foundation elements with drilled rebar as well). I don’t know much about dam design, so going through some documents about diversion, and dam construction methods will be highly beneficial to this project. Anyone who has seen documentation on this type of thing, please send them my way!

Water demands by the community were estimated (surveys weren’t done because we figured they would give inaccurate values anyway, and past experience and empirical evidence from the World Health Organization should and would trump anything we found by asking community members how much water they use (do we in the States even know how many liters of water we use per day without looking at the water bill?)) as 50L/person/Day, assuming a quasi exponential increase in population (good for populations less than 2000 people (Milhecic 2009)), and a project life of 25 years, yielding around 1000 folks. Sizing the tank was interesting, since based on current flows, there is no need for storage, however, in most cases to keep flow uniform, and to protect from any freak water outages, a conservative tank size of 1/4 the daily max usage (in cubic meters) over a 12hr period, was used to calculate hypothetical tank dimensions (around 3.5m x 3.5m x 3 m, which if you do the math is around 37,000 liters, around twice as large as the Nueva Esperanza tank, which makes sense seeing as their community is around half the size of Pasmata. The difficulty, however, is how much water should we assume it coming from the source, since there is no need to use the capacity of the source (which is 4x more than what was predicted as the source flow in calculations), I am thinking it would be cool to have a regulator valve at the source that a person could change based on flow in and desired flow out, if demands are higher than predicted, given that there is capacity to do so….email me if you want exact figures on this.

Pipes, valves, glue, cement, the works, was given to me in a spreadsheet from Reyna last week (that has been the extent of the alcaldia’s involvement, hopefully we’ll have more in the weeks to come), and concrete and rebar quantities and prices were found using ratios for impermeable concrete of 6:3:2 Aggregate, Sand, Cement, used in documentation, where the rebar costs were found from a local hardware store, given as 1300 C./ (about $65) per (8) 6m bars, and assuming a spacing of 6” O.C. in most cases. From these quantities, it was possible to make up a materials costs spreadsheet, which put us around $9,000 for total project costs, where Travis and I are thinking it would be better to estimate even more conservatively given the possibility of not having enough wood for forming, not having the proper tools, and having to compensate somewhat for manual labor, which Pasmata rep, Karla, has ensured me will be free of cost…but who knows.

The trip to Nueva Esperanza showed me in fact that the crux with this project will be grabbing monthly fees from folks hooked up to the water, as even $0.50/month has been hard to get from Nueva Esperanza folks (to pay for parts and a person who is in charge of checking the system $20/day). They have also mentioned that for any new household to be added to the system, a person must pay 1000 C./ ($50) for the rights to tap the line. This is good to know, seeing as Travis and I are still debating how we should charge folks based on water usage and new household connection.

Conduct the needed water tests to feel sure that this source is going to be an improvement: After reading through the 2004 WHO water guidelines (pretty basic I know, but it was in the FCP office here in Jalapa J) there was a mention that the presence of pesticides could be estimated by looking at nitrogen and arsenic levels (among mercury and other heavy metals), but mostly just nitrates and nitrites. So we actually had these tests already done for las piedras, which showed very low levels of nitrites and nitrates, fare below the permissible level. I would contend that this is good enough evidence that pesticides from up stream tobacco farms, is enough.

What we are lacking now is evidence of real pathogenic bacteria indicators, E. Coli and thermo tolerant bacteria (since in tropical areas, total coliforms do not show much due to the prevalence of natural coliforms in these types of environments), so I am pushing to have these tests done either by MINSA or some affiliate in Managua. The same goes for finding the presence of Giardia Lambia and Cryptosporidium . Old FCP project contact Greg and I were in contact early this week and he gave me some great references for labs in Managua based on contacts his wife has made over the past 6 years. He’s a rockstar too…I’m surrounded by rockstars.

Permission from Farmers, and source protection solicitation: Karla and I (mostly Karla) have put together a letter requesting 1 manzana (10,000 square baras ~about 0.9 hectares) of land around the water source to protect from animal fecal mater introduction by grazing (serious problem now, although only contributing to 14 fecal coliforms/100ml, which does show that there is some shit in the water).

Jalapa Government Design Collaboration: I had a great conversation with Karla. Travis and I agree that having governmental participation, albeit not what the town of Pasmata would prefer, needs to take place to forge somewhat amicable community and governmental relationships, even if they hardly exists, i.e. making the government feel good about what they “did”, facilitating them to take a bit more pride in the Pasmata project.

Topographic mapping: The only topographic mapping that took place this week was to see the location of break pressure tanks and air release valves for the Nueva Esperanza system (an FCP project). Their system is 5km long, and a heck of a hike (nearly 2000 feet elevation gain). This system appeared to be working well, due to good maintenance crews, who were beginning to become disgruntled by too low of pay (FYI, this could become a problem). Two air release valves were not functioning anymore, and many valves were not functioning properly, and just spitting out water.

Water Committee: We met on Thursday with the project committee in Pasmata, and had a very rich conversation (2hrs!) about how we should proceed with the project. On Tuesday we plan to go out with a piping expert to mark with flags where the pipe will likely run, and grab more detailed GPS points to facilitate a second calculation of a Hydraulic Grade Line. Neat stuff, they are all super dialed and excited to get this project underway.

Reaching Out to Find Project Contacts: I contacted El Porvenir’s president Rob Bell and got in touch with an in country contact and am waiting to hear back from him. I feel they will be a great resource for us with this project, as they have done so many similar projects. As stated in the previous post, I have contacted University of Florida’s development engineering guru, James Mihelcic and he gave me a pretty detailed spreadsheet that outlines how a project can be assessed for feasibility, designed, and monitored to insure sustainability. Getting through this 10meg monster is taking some time, but bearing fruitful conversations with Karla about cultural, economic, and political entities that are in the backdrop of this country’s present state. Joseph Ryan, a CU chemistry professor has also given his two cents on how we might test for pesticides. He basically just said that he didn’t know, but in the world of academia, that’s pretty refreshing to hear. I hope he can continue to be a resource.


  • Walking and Marking exact pipe locations with the project teams on Tuesday

  • Remapping, and redesigning system based on more accurate and detailed set of GPS points, making sure the available head is available at community grids (Feasibility step 1)

  • Parasite and Ecoli testing, to ensure water quality is in fact good (Feasibility step 2, but likely should be step 1)

  • Turning in Somoto Document, visiting Somoto Rotary – We hope to have a document to Somoto Rotary by Monday, and to visit them later next week to talk face to face.

  • Utilizing Facebook and Putting the Word out for a 2 yr worker – We absolutely positively need to get someone lined up for 1 to 2 years of work here. Even if the project is completed by Februrary 2012, there will need to be someone here to run operations, maintenance and evaluations to tweak the system where it needs tweaking, and set the stage for 25 years of system life. I suggest we start a facebook page, with pictures, etc. just to put the word out, and to get people excited. Within the EDC department we have a lot of willing participants I am sure, and I am considering asking friend and collegue, Cole Sigmon, if he is interested, he’s an absolute animal when it come to getting work done right in the field. He has some project management experience in Latin American Countries and will be visiting Jalapa in October on an assignment with Water For People’s World Water Core. Please tell me your thoughts

  • Soliciting Jalapa Government Involvement: I am going to be sending an email to the acaldia to ensure that we can get some of their support in acquiring necessary information about materials purchasing, and asking their advice about our design. Reyna was unable to meet last Saturday and is up to her ears in 9 projects around Jalapa, so I am hesitant about asking for more than 1hr a week from them, however, as I said earlier, having some involvement from the alcaldia, even if it’s not financial input, would pay dividends for the relationship with Pasmata and the local government.


Tentative Project Date!: Ok this is big, but from what it looks like, the construction for this project will hopefully start in Late November and go through January, due to wetter soil conditions, and faster excavation, as the required tube depth is 1m in some parts of the line due to tractor traffic. This means we will need to keep moving forward on acquiring exactly what is needed in terms of labor teams, finca goaheads, parts and materials, in the next two months. However, as we know, things could take place that might delay progress to 6 months later. But we will remain optimistic!

FCP and whoever else, please feel free to share your thoughts with me at!

Have a wonderful day and we’ll keep trucking away on this project! Thanks!

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