Chapter Feature: URI's Clean Water Infrastructure in Guatemala

In 2010 when the University of Rhode Island (URI) chapter of ESW was founded, the group already had an international humanitarian project in mind. In the summer following that academic year the group traveled to San Mateo Ixtatán, Guatemala, a village in the remote highlands to conduct preliminary research for a water treatment project. Since that first trip the group has worked closely with the Ixtatán Foundation towards fulfilling their goal of helping the San Mateo community achieve a cleaner environment through clean water infrastructure.

By summer 2014, the group’s fourth trip to the village, they completed the three-phase construction process of the region’s first wastewater treatment system at a school for 200 students. The system, placed at a school to increase awareness and act as an educational tool, consists of a septic tank and intermittently dosed gravel biofilter which runs solely on gravity. After successful implementation of the treatment system, the URI group realized that before continuing a more comprehensive wastewater infrastructure implementation, they would need to test the effectiveness of the system in place. They soon realized the closest water quality analysis laboratory was largely inaccessible due to a 10-hour commute on unpredictable roads and no means to keep the samples at the required steady temperature.

In response to this need the URI group began work on the design and implementation of the region’s first wastewater treatment laboratory to compliment the Guatemalan government’s new legislations to treat wastewater at a primary level. Last summer the group traveled to the region to build a water quality analysis laboratory in a room of a house to be used for a medical clinic. They constructed the lab to the best of their ability in accordance with international laboratory standards and brought along the beginnings of the necessary equipment and materials.

Now in the 6th year of the project the URI chapter has just completed their sixth visit to San Mateo, continuing progress on the implementation of the lab. Now that the water lab is mostly furnished the group has shifted focus to communications with the largest engineering university in the Huehuetenango region, Universidad DaVinci (UDV), seeking student and faculty support to equip the lab with sustained specialized staff and maintenance. The URI group is excited to report that their initiatives have been well received at UDV. The Guatemalan university has recently set out to reconnect with their indigenous roots, so connecting to this water infrastructure project with URI in the San Mateo village has been a natural partnership for them. The exciting opportunity for the UDV students to connect with a network of students at URI has drawn attention and support for the clean water efforts URI has started.

The URI chapter is currently formulating a plan for their next trip to the area in summer 2016 while the continue weekly communication with UDV. In their next trip they plan to hold lessons for the UDV staff and students to teach them best laboratory practices and a few important procedures for different water quality tests. The hopes of the URI chapter is that within the next year or so the water lab will be entirely sustained by UDV and the San Mateo community, charging for water quality analyses to pay for testing materials and staff to man the lab a few hours a week.

The URI chapter is also excited to announce the beginning of a sister ESW chapter at UDV. They hope that the UDV chapter will provide an outlet for Guatemalan students who are interested in starting their own sustainability themed projects and spread awareness of environmental protection. The mutually beneficial sister chapter relationship will also provide cross-cultural opportunities and networking for both the UDV and URI students.

Keep in touch with the URI ESW chapter by following their Facebook page here! For more information contact Chapter Relations Coordinator for the Northeast ESW chapters, Jessica Damicis