Work continues on El Llanito water supply system

Phil Bowman has initiated our construction monitoring WhatsApp calls. On 27 January he wrote:

This afternoon we had a brief WhatsApp conference call (max of 4 participants on a WhatsApp call) with Martin, Javier, Luz and me.  Eveling was originally invited but she had a conflict today.
Today’s Work Progress:  Martin’s primary work today was fabricating the rebar for the break pressure tank to go near Zeleyda’s house.  Luz provided two photos of his work in progress attached below.
Questions or issues:  We discussed the dimensions of the galvanized pipe that he will be putting into the tanks and that he needed to ensure the inlet pipe was threaded to accept a future float valve.
Besides the break-tank questions, Martin also asked about the special tap stand to be placed partway up the hill towards the storage tanks.  He wanted to confirm that the Tee would go into the 2 inch pipe along the road and the water meter for that line would be placed next to the road.  This line is unique in that it will use a 1 inch pipe and a 1 inch water meter because of the distance this tap stand is away from the main water line.  The 1 inch line will be reduced to 1/2 inch right before the tap stand. 
Tomorrow’s Plans:  Martin expects to complete the pressure break tank tomorrow.  If there is time, he will then start to build the junction valve box nearby that pressure break tank (near Zeleyda’s house).

Next call:  We agreed to hold a similar brief status call tomorrow, Tuesday, at 5:30 pm Nicaragua time.
Other Issues:  Luz brought up a question about tap stand locations:  The Water Committee was under the impression that we would have a tap stand near Adeleida’s house under the belief that the elevation was no higher than the previously identified tap stand on that route.  However, Javier’s analysis indicated that Adeleida’s house was indeed at a higher elevation than the EPAnet model analysis would support, so, no, that tap stand was not possible.  Luz said that in that case, our KML files showed that the last tap stand along that route was the one placed at the church.  I took an action to investigate that – may initial belief was that our original design did include at least one tap stand closer to Adeleida’s house than the church, but I’ll need to confirm that. (Subsequently resolved.  Javier sent out an updated KML file this afternoon which now shows STN 48A at the location of the original STN 48, partway up the road towards Adelayda’s house.)

Aerial photomap of Belize Open Source

I flew the Mavic Mini around the property at 400 feet (~129 meters).

At Belize international Airport I had WiFi and was able to upload the images from my laptop to Drone Deploy’s cloud-based software which processed 486 photos to make an orthomosaic map and 3D model. Here is a screenshot from my phone.

BOSSD near August Pine Ridge

The high resolution map and model are at:;jwt_token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzUxMiJ9.eyJleHAiOjI1MzQwMjMwMDc5OSwiaWQiOiI1ZTJkZDdiNTcxYWQwYTE1OWRiMzUyYmIiLCJzY29wZSI6WyJhMWY0MTk4YWIzXzQ1NUMxNTc2RjZPUEVOUElQRUxJTkUiXSwidHlwZSI6IlJlYWRPbmx5UGxhbiIsIm92ZXJsYXlfZm9sZGVyX2lkIjoiNWUyZGQ3NjQ3MWFkMGExNTlkYjM1MmJhIn0.248MAnt0ALRueQsnApWUcKeDgTNMaTew8dGTQ_ZEK7ipdpVLYCYHk9przjsX9BjIiKVixmKO1w73oZbApgiSKQ

Additional details about the map are at:

Additional context about next steps for El Llanito EWB project

Our first Engineers Without Borders (EWB) team, working on the El Llanito water supply project, left Nicaragua 9 January. Our second team arrived on the 7th so we had overlap and opportunity to do a handoff.

Our Responsible Engineer In Charge (REIC), Phil Bowman, and the new arrivals left on 18 January.

I posted about Phil’s summary, but want to add this for context. We are so pleased with the community engagement and all the work they have accomplished. They have completed almost all of the trenching – much faster than we had anticipated.

We’re monitoring our estimated cost to complete and still have some uncertainties that may require additional fundraising, but with the Rotary Global Grant and EWB funds, we are going to be close. If you want to support the work in this community you can donate online at:

In addition to ensuring completion of this first project, together with the water committee we have identified a number of potential follow on projects.

You can see the other progress posts at the site as well as this one.

Successful Early Implementation trip for EWB El Llanito, Nicaragua

Thanks Phil, Great report!

Congratulations to the team, the water committee, the community, and Alcance, for making such wonderful progress on this important project.

In the kickoff meeting, Bayardo Obando from Alcance told the story of how the community has wanted and worked on this water project since 1996. It touched me in terms of how important it is for us to complete this with them.

Phil gets kudos for managing the workflow through the entire two-team visit, as does Javier for supporting us long-distance in dealing with tough questions about the design.

We had wonderful support from the Nicaragua country office.
It was extraordinarily valuable to have the UC Berkeley members participating – and fun to see how the youngsters enjoyed them so much.

The progress during this trip dramatically exceeded my expectations.

Thanks again to everyone who made it possible.

Now comes the push to complete the rest of the design and get approval for next trip. the community is eager to get it done.
Thanks again to all.

On Sunday, 19 January, Phil Bowman, our Responsible Engineer In Charge (REIC), wrote:

We finished up our Early Implementation Trip yesterday.  This was a very productive 3 weeks.  The community has been exceptionally enthusiastic about our work and the Water Committee has demonstrated excellent leadership.
Besides the literally hundreds of volunteers who contributed to the effort, we have worked particularly closely with the head mason/contractor Martin and his key support lead Juan Antonio.  They have both been excellent to partner with, and despite our language challenges, we’ve been able to communicate fairly effectively.  I’ve learned quite a bit from Martin about smart building and masonry techniques.  He and Juan have been invaluable resources for out team.

On our last day, the Water Committee held a wrap up meeting followed by a rousing dance party!

Some of the accomplishments from this trip:

  • Well Support Building: Nearly completed the Well Support Building. Remaining tasks are just to put on the roof and install the doorways. Our EWB team participated in some areas – we filled the blocks with grout and smoothed the mortar – but Martin and his team really did nearly everything.
  • Trenches: The community completed digging about 90% fo the trenches – sometimes even through some remarkably rocky terrain with ice chest sized boulders. The remaining trench work is either some stretches where the volunteer families just haven’t yet had time to do their apportionment, some stream crossings where we’ll have to combine deep trenches, galvanized pipe and concrete overlays to protect the pipeline from the heavy winter runoffs. The UC students also had a chance to dig some trenches with support from some locals.
  • Tank Site: The UC students performed a site survey for the tank location confirming ability to place two tanks with room for a third for future expansion if needed. We also identified available space for French Drains.
  • Leak Tester: Developed a field pipeline leak test fixture. This device has two parts to connect onto both the top and bottom sections of a pipeline to be tested. With this device we should be able to verify our pipelines are leak-free before burying them in trenches. We also trained Martin and Juan Antonio on its operation and the UC students wrote up a 2-page operating procedure for it.
  • Fixture Installations: Installed at least one each of almost all the different types of fixtures: tap stands, pipeline junction boxes, air release valve boxes.
  • Break-Pressure Tanks: We ran out of time to complete the break-pressure tanks, but Martin made the wood forms for the tanks and we walked through the design drawings in detail to make sure he completely understood it.
  • Thrust Blocks: They also put in at least one thrust block to hold the pipe fittings in place where there is a change in flow direction.
  • Pipeline Survey: We walked the pipeline from the well to the tanks and reviewed mitigation procedures to avoid contamination from a nearby latrine. (Namely, they will encase the pipeline in concrete for at least 75 feet near the latrine location.)
  • Aerial Photos: Pat contracted with a local aerial survey company to capture calibrated drone photographs of the community to help with precise geolocation of pipeline fixtures and other features for now and future enhancements. The drone pilot made some initial flights, but weather has caused a delay in their completion.
  • Material Supplies: We ordered and received material for nearly the entire ~4000 meter pipeline.
  • Water Meters: We accepted a small but very valuable growth in scope: the CAPS wanted a method to hold water users accountable for their usage so we are adding a water meter to each tap stand. This serves multiple purposes: until the well can be confirmed to continuously supply a higher volume of water, the CAPS can enforce conservative limits on water use; secondly, if the well proves reliable at higher volumes, the community would like to consider offering water lines directly to each home, so by managing water meters now, the CAPS will gain water management experience and metrics for these future applications. The UC students assembled about 20 of these and provided written instruction on their assembly process.
  • Cable from Tank Site to Well: We measured out three lengths of 240m each to reach from the storage tanks to the Well Support Building. These cables will allow pump on/off controls based on water levels in the tanks. Our team trained Martin and Juan Antonio on how to thread these cables through a 1.5 inch PVC pipeline. Our UC students also documented this procedure with photos of the process.
  • Tap Stand Location Adjustments and Mapping: While walking the planned pipeline route through the entire community, Pat and our team worked with the Water Committee to mark specific locations for tap stands. We also accepted recommendations for additional tap stands, in some cases requiring extensions to the pipeline. These requests were evaluated by our hydrodynamics engineer Javier to determine whether our gravity-fed system could accommodate them. GPS way points were marked for each tap stand allowing mapping apps to pinpoint their location using phone apps.
  • Plan for Continued Work: Together with Elizabeth Diaz and Eveling Rodriguez, we firmed up our plans for providing oversight of the work continuing in the community. We will start with daily WhatsApp calls, sliding to weekly calls as appropriate. Eveling is planning to be on-site once a week to start to provide an opportunity for face-to-face issue resolution if necessary.
  • PMEL Surveys: The survey materials were provided to Luz from Alcance. We believe she may be more effective at getting the community to provide honest answers on these questionnaires.
  • Potential Projects in Neighboring Villages: Alcance leads drove our team members to nearby communities experiencing different challenges where EWB may be able to support in future projects. For example, one nearby village had their wells dry up. Currently, they rely on water trucked in to fill their home water tanks, but this is not a long term solution. Other communities were in dire need of bridges to allow transportation in and out of their villages during rainy seasons. They also showed us examples of Eco-Stoves for effective, low-pollution wood burning stoves.
Household (25 in total) tank filled by water truck

Bridge destroyed by floods (one of several)

Ecological stove with chimney to the outside y el gato encontrando un lugar cálido

Our team also had the pleasure of visiting a local landmark. We hiked up to the top of La Peńa Labrada, a ridge of shear scenic cliffs and rocks towering above La Llanito. The hike was about 6.5 miles round trip with 2500 ft gross elevation gain up some beautiful (and very muddy) trails.
We’ve also had an excellent cultural exchange. We became very attached to our host families. At Zeleyda’s house where we had all our meals, we became temporary members of their extended family with lots of kids running around the entire time. We taught each other hand-clapping games and card games that seemed to run on continuously. Almost every time we stopped by Zeleyda’s we’d hear “jugar las cartas?” (“play cards?”) We enjoyed Egyptian War (thanks Pamela), Go Fish (pescador), Old Maid (chanchona), and manzana – one of a few other complicated games I can’t remember. 8-year-old Darrel would come over from across the street carrying his chess board. In his competitions with UC Berkeley students, Darrel won all but one game I think.
Our hosts were very welcoming Darwin and his kids put up with me for three weeks. They’ve been very gracious always making sure we had plenty of water for drinking and bathing.
Lucia has hosted two of our women students for the last ~12 days. She has a beautiful home.
And Zeleyda and her mother Asucena have not only hosted three of our women students but they have cooked all our wonderful meals, usually accompanied with fantastic fresh fruit juices.
The community is very anxious to have us come back soon and complete their water system!
A few pics from the trip are below. We have many many more photos; I’ll set up a folder on the Google drive shortly to post them all.

The Community Meeting with 167 attendees:

The Community Meeting with 167 attendees

Ground Breaking on the Well Support Building. Some of the key people with shovels are Martin (lead mason / supervisor), Marivel (Water Committee), Eugenio (Water Committee) and Luz (Alcance):

Ground Breaking on the Well Support Building

Digging the trenches. 169 volunteers came out the first week to dig trenches. By the time we left, 90% of the trenches were completed.

Digging the trenches

Pat with Adelayda from the Water Committee mapping out specific tap stand locations:

Mapping and staking tap stand locations and proposed changes

Foundation completed for the Well Support Building:

Foundation completed for Well Support Building

Day off hike up to the top of La Peña Labrada:

Hike to top of La Peña Labrada

Overlap Day with both teams in the trenches. Claire, Kishan, Pamela, Sage, Alara, Pat, Phil and Tuana:

Overlap Day with both teams in the trenches

Nightly Card Games:

Nightly Card Games

Pipeline Pressure Tester:

Pipeline Pressure Tester

Structure of Well Support Building completed. Just the roof and door left to put on. (Juan Antonio climbed a tall tree to get this photo.)

Structure of Well Support Building completed

Leaving Gamboa, Panama

I’m was at Canopy B&B, waiting for ride to airport. Now I’m in line at the airport.

I had great time here. I came to visit Andrew Quitmeyer, at Digital Naturalism Laboratories (DINA: via invitation from Shannon Dosemagen, long-time Public Lab friend. You can see what Public Lab is about at:

I’d been intrigued by a map and 3-D model of Gamboa that Andy had made from a drone flight. I brought my new Mavic Mini that I had maybe 6 min of flight time with. Andy coached me, and we flew a section of Gamboa Marsh where a music festival had fumigated and dumped a load of gravel inappropriately. So it was a live, real use case. We took over 300 photos, at 2-second intervals, from 100 m, flying manually.

We started a map in Mapknitter, then I used Drone Deploy’s trial offer to make a map and 3D model.

Andy also introduced me to Andrew Coates. His firm Cresolus ( specializes in architecture and construction in the tropics. We were able to talk briefly and he’s interested in helping come up with an open source design with very simple IKEA-like instructions for building houses that might be used at the Belize Open Source – Sustainable Development site. It is convenient that he is already working in Belize for a government of Belize project funded by World Bank, to renovate a repurpose an old forest station with ~ 40 buildings, on the way to the Carocol Mayan ruins. He’s also renovated the facilities at The Thousand Foot Falls in the mountain pine ridge area of Belize. Andrew had great ideas about how one might approach this similar to a boat building company out of Chesapeake Bay. They offer

kits that you can buy and make yourself

classes where you can come and learn and build your own

or they build and deliver to you

Andrew talked about his Panama hut initiative which has trained builders to fabricate and then be able to flat pack and send the small very nice units. See:

I emailed Andy and Andrew that I was sure glad we were able to chat for a few minutes. Very productive!

I sent a PDF of the dual vault composting latrine design package, as well as the bill of materials, for the ones that we’ve been doing for ~ $415 per unit cost in Nicaragua (111 to date, with another Rotary global grant nearing approval to do 80 more in seven communities.)

I also sent link to the drum-based composting toilet system I spoke of separately.

I stressed I appreciate what Andrew is doing and the opportunity to try and partner on a vision for the little Belize place.

I think the open source construction manual, training workshops, sponsorship for the local Belizeans to become certified builders, all really sounds terrific.

After, Andrew wrote, “Good to talk to you.I love the idea of creating a simple tropical home that is kit built from an “IKEA” guide. Available to all.”

I also used another cloud based software to process a test set of photos from our El Llanito, Nicaragua water supply aerial image contractor who flew tests from up the hill to sector 5 in the community, just reaching our areas of active trenching (visible on far right side) in this scaled small sample aerial map. The preliminary results are encouraging for being able to map our project.

Test from processed aerial images

You can also download the results (in a BIG zip file) from:

Phil Bowman, our responsible engineer in charge (REIC) indicated winds that stopped them have stayed too high, so they will coordinate with EWB Nica Country Office and the water committee (CAPS) on when to return.

Phil and the team have continued to make great progress on the well support building and other tasks.

Installing the plumb lines to ensure the cement blocks are laid level and straight
Alara, Claire and Tuana help with the grout
We were able to coordinate with Martin and Maribel today on trench digging. Our UC Berkeley chapter colleagues were assigned a stretch of trench to dig near Zeleyda’s house

Great start on El Llanito, Nicaragua water supply project

We are here, doing well. Community is going faster than we anticipated. 167 people came to kickoff meeting that CAPS (legally recognized water committee) set agenda for and ran very effectively.

We broke ground on the well support building foundation excavation and for the two pressure break tanks. We staked and marked the route for the pipeline. 

Today over 100 people started at 6 AM excavating for the pipeline.

Forms for pressure break tanks were constructed.

Here are a few photos.

Whale watching, Moss Landing

Kathy and I really enjoyed our whale watching trip, out of Moss Landing, Saturday 10/26/19.

We had lunch at the Haute Enchilada Cafe before the 2:30 whale watching trip. Very interesting menu and really good.

After lunch we walked back to catch the boat and watch whales


After we docked a fellow passenger shared a few of her photos with me.

Photo by Toni Domingo

Video of whale watching

After, Kathy and I enjoyed supper at Salt Wood Kitchen and Oysterette. No reservations available till late, so ate at bar. So tired and hungry, I forgot to take any pictures of food. Wonderful staff, service, and food.

Later in review, I wrote: Our supper at Salt Wood Kitchen and Oysterette was terrific. There were no reservations till later, so we ate at the bar near the grill and oyster area, which was fun to watch. Great staff – conversational, knowledgeable about the menu choices; attentive, friendly service, and the food was terrific. Baron Point oysters on the half-shell and grilled, Kathy had black cod, I had salmon – both were very different, intriguing and yummy; then we had coffees with pavlova – a baked meringue with Cabernet sorbet, berries and a really nice sauce. All just terrific.

Beer Club

We started at Tap 25 and then walked over to the Korean barbecue restaurant.

Dan Moore and I stopped to check out the new Town Centre store.

On the way back we noticed that Pennyweight Craft Brewing door was open so we went in and checked out the in-progress construction. Beautiful! It’s going to be a wonderful venue.


Nice turnout, but not full complement
I had the Drakes Foraging Raccoon IPA
Pennywhistle coming soon
Upper level
From Pennyweight email update

Cars, just for fun…

The past few days I’ve just been struck some cars in Livermore.

I’d never seen a McLaren

I asked this guy if it was his.

“No, you’d have to lather me up with butter to get me into it.”

“Can I quote you on that?”


Then, this evening I just had to pull over in my ‘94 Miata to photograph these cuties.

Painted by JR Romero’s team at Tri-Valley Auto Body
Mini pickup
Modern mini
Classic Minis, set up for racing

As I was taking photos, I saw the owner in his garage, so I walked over and told him how cool I thought they were. We talked a while.

He explained the ones on the trailer were for racing. They’d just come back from a race, which is why they were in front of his place.

Later I found a neat story about their racing and family background.

I asked if Mini Mokes were in the same family. I told him we used them when I was in Belize in the 70s.

Mini Moke

He assured me they were and that his wife had learned to drive in one. Also, that the blue Mini pickup had been hers when she was 16. Then she came out and we chatted a little longer, before I left.

5-18 Alaska

Kathy and I traveled with Carolyn and Lloyd Baysdorfer. We flew into Faibanks, then toured Denali by bus and train to Anchorage, then another bus to Seward before getting on Holland America ship to Glacier Bay, Haines, Juneau, Ketchikan, and down to Vancouver.
Here is link to photos from May 2018 Alaska trip:
A lot of these photos and videos aren’t that great, but it is clear we all had a blast.