Digging Deep for a Solution

By Frank Radosevich II
August 3, 2012

Fresh water flowing from the tap is something many people take for granted. In the United States, it’s a resource that can be had cheap, clean and constantly. Not true for other parts of the world.

In Nuevas Ilusiones, Guatemala, residents have their water trucked in from a nearby river or wake up early to draw what they need from a local well before it runs dry. The river water is expensive while the town’s well doesn’t provide enough for the residents. Both sources, consumed untreated by the community, have been shown to contain E. coli.

But now, two Bradley students and others are aiming to slake the thirst for drinking water in Nuevas Ilusiones.

In May, seniors Erin Westerby and Andrew Aubry traveled to the small community in southwest Guatemala to help bring fresh water to the town one day. The students, members of the campus group Engineers Without Borders, teamed up with Joshua Jensen and Greg Formosa from the Heart of Illinois Professionals chapter of Engineers Without Borders to help out.

The purpose of the trip was to establish a good relationship with the community and collect data on the feasibility of digging and sustaining a fresh-water well for the town. The group spent one week talking with residents, taking water samples and learning about legal issues surrounding water rights. Overall, the need for a new source of potable water is great.

“They pay an exorbitant amount for their water,” Westerby, a civil engineering student from Sycamore, Ill., said about the residents of Nuevas Ilusiones. “They don’t have great drinking water.”

The group has made a five-year commitment to the community and intends to dig a fresh-water well and distribution system for the roughly 350 residents. Westerby said the group is designing a storage tank and well that, once approved by the rural community and officials with Engineers Without Borders USA, could be built before June 2013.

Engineers Without Borders is also making sure community members are involved with the planning and decision-making steps of the project. Rather than dictating the direction of the project, the students and professionals presented the residents with options and laid out other solutions like pumping water from a river or spring in a neighboring community.

“We’re not just giving them a well. They have a say and input and they are invested with the project,” Westerby said. “It’s a great dynamic.”

The service project has also benefited Westerby as a civil engineering major by giving her practical experience in designing a water transportation, storage and distribution system as well as project management and leadership within the student group.

“It’s really a great way to get some design experience before your senior year,” she said.