In early 2023, Caltech's Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter announced their project to design a more resilient water supply system for Tandacato, a small rural community in Ecuador. The existing water supply system in Tandacato has experienced damage from landslides and heavy rainfall, resulting in unreliable access to clean water. Following a visit to the area this past summer, Caltech's EWB chapter has gained valuable insights into the conditions of the current water supply system and have officially signed a partnership agreement to design a new and improved system for the people of Tandacato.
Coordinated with the EWB-Ecuador office and local community partners, the trip to Ecuador consisted of two components: assess the physical condition of the current water supply system and interview members of the community to receive feedback on what they want in a new system.
"We saw areas where the water pipes were damaged and we tested the water quality of the sources," says Riya Shrivastava, a fourth-year undergraduate and EWB-Caltech co-president. "We got a feel for the water system as well as the whole geographic area in general."
During the on-site assessment of the water supply system, the EWB-Caltech chapter discovered that the damage caused by landslides exceeded initial expectations. Notably, a large ravine was created in the space that once held critical infrastructure such as a water catchment box and retaining wall. Despite an abundant supply of water from the rainforest groundwater, the mechanisms responsible for capturing and delivering water to the village are either partially damaged or entirely buried.
"Before we went on the trip, we thought the project only entailed finding a new water source and designing a solution to direct that water to the community," says Sravani Boggaram, a fellow fourth-year undergraduate and EWB-Caltech co-president. "But after going on the trip, we found that the scope was a lot larger than only figuring out where to get the water from."
This expanded scope entails installing more pipes underground and building additional retaining walls to protect against future landslides. Also, the current water supply system suffers from frequent breakdowns of the aging pipes, which have been in use for 30 years and lie beneath busy roads. To address this problem, the EWB-Caltech team not only needs to add more pipes but must also replace older pipes while devising strategies to reroute them away from the roads.
"There's also an issue of storage; they don't have enough," Boggaram says. "They have three storage tanks right now, but it's not enough for their growing population, and this project seeks to support them for the next 20 years at least." The addition of a fourth storage tank will ensure water drawn from the ground does not get wasted and will move the project closer to achieving its goal of delivering 80 liters of water per person per day.
Community surveys conducted by the EWB-Caltech team confirmed their on-site observations and revealed a potential need for a new filtration system as well. Comments from the community members included complaints about milky and muddy water, indicating issues such as over-chlorination and disrepair in the current filtration system. The community also voiced concerns about strained water access during peak demand periods, particularly on weekends.
"In general, the community is unhappy with the water they are receiving, and they want to see an improvement. The support we received from the community was positive; they want to see this project happen," Boggaram says.
The next step for the project is to finalize the design of the new water supply system while simultaneously fundraising to make the design a reality. "In terms of a timeline, we would like to have completed this design and completed fundraising the bulk of the money for the project by the time Sravani and I graduate in June," Shrivastava says. "The project estimate is around $50,000 to $70,000, which is typical for a water supply project of this scale, so fundraising will be a big challenge and a top priority."
Once the design is finalized in June, the returning members of the EWB-Caltech chapter will transition to the next phase, which involves coordinating a future assessment trip to Ecuador to oversee the implementation of the design, planned for late 2024. The construction of the project, which falls beyond the scope of EWB-Caltech's direct involvement, is anticipated to take one to two years. When the new design is in place, the EWB-Caltech chapter will continue monitoring the system for three to five years as stipulated by the partnership agreement with Tandacato. However, the EWB-Caltech chapter is free to take on another project during the monitoring phase.
If you are interested in supporting EWB-Caltech and making a direct impact on the citizens of Tandacato, donations can be made via the following link: https://support.ewb-usa.org/tandacato. To keep up with EWB-Caltech's progress, follow the group on Instagram @ewb_caltech.