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