Engineers Without Borders Equalize Water Share in Ecuador

University of Wisconsin-Madison students Jonathan Blanchard and Kevin Orner developed a plan last year that in June resulted in a water pipeline that would serve five small communities in central Ecuador equitably, at the urging of their mentor, the late Peter Bosscher, a university civil and environmental engineering professor.

Blanchard and Orner, who graduated in May 2008, as well as fellow civil and environmental engineering student David Tengler, tackled the project for their senior design capstone project, a requirement for all civil and environmental engineering seniors.

The result is a 10 kilometer-long system of PVC pipes that provides equal amounts of water to the villages of Larca Cunga, Agualongo, Panecillo, Yambiro, and San Juan Loma.

Water equity is a major improvement: Before the project, the communities furthest from the mountain spring could only draw water for one hour late at night while the communities closest to the source drew an estimated 100 gallons per person per day.

In March, Orner and Tengler traveled to Ecuador during their spring break to meet community members and gather field data. After tweaking the design for the rest of the semester, the three students and Siebers returned to Ecuador to implement the project from May 27-June 10.

Prior to the group's arrival, the communities gathered to excavate the pipeline trenches.

The project had three components. First, new pipe with a wider diameter than that of the existing pipe was laid to increase the flow to the system. Next, the team added a pressure release box to prevent pipes from bursting at the low end of the system. Additionally, they installed water meters and valves to regulate the system.

"We've been so tremendously influenced by Peter and we want to keep remembering what he's taught us," says Blanchard. "The pipeline, which has been dubbed the Peter Bosscher Memorial Waterway, is a living memorial because it will keep providing abundant water for years to come."

The idea for the pipeline redesign originally came from researchers at the UW-Madison Center for Global Health, who noticed local struggles with water access while conducting a field study in Ecuador. Sensing that an engineering solution was necessary, Curtis Johnson, a professor emeritus of pharmacy and medicine, invited Bosscher to survey the system. Lori DiPrete Brown, the Center for Global Health assistant director, worked with Bosscher in the field and stayed connected with the community. She also oriented the students.

Bosscher was the adviser for the UW-Madison chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a nonprofit organization that designs and implements sustainable engineering projects in foreign countries. Blanchard, Orner, and Tengler were active members of Engineers Without Borders.

The Civil and Environmental Visiting Committee financed the project, which cost $12,500.

"The board saw a legitimate need and saw the passion of the students," says Jeffrey Russell, civil and environmental engineering professor and chair. "When our alumni and industry partners are asked to help, they respond, especially when you articulate how your plan is going to make a difference."

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