Clean water for Bolivia


Jennifer Hoffman, Missouri S&T student. Photo by Tom Shipley

For many students, spring break and summer vacations are perfect times to kick back and relax. But for members of the Engineers Without Borders student chapter at Missouri S&T, those are perfect times to go beyond their own backyards to solve real-life problems in developing countries.

“EWB was one of the main reasons I was attracted to S&T,” says Maria Heath, a sophomore in mechanical engineering. “I really wanted to apply what I learn in classes to help others. It turns out that I am learning many practical lessons through EWB before I learn them in class.”

Last summer, Health and 14 others from S&T worked to bring sustainable, clean water to Tachachia, Bolivia. Their goal wasn’t simply to quench thirst; it was to save lives. In Bolivia, a lack of clean water contributes to the death of every 10th child before the age of 5.

For the past three years, S&T students have been designing and building a water distribution system for the tiny, remote community located in a steep valley near La Paz. When completed, the system will have two hydraulic ram pumps, two settling tanks, two 2,500-gallon storage tanks, and point-of-use biosand filters.

Here’s how the system will work. The pumps will take water from irrigation canals fed by the Rio Palca River up to mountainside settling tanks. This will lower the suspended solids in the water before it’s sent to the storage tanks. From there, water can be distributed throughout a PVC pipe system to each of the homes where biosand filters will make the water drinkable.

EWB president Jennifer Hoffman, a senior in aerospace engineering, has been to Bolivia four times. She says she’s gained a different perspective of the world and has enjoyed making life easier every day for whole communities.
“EWB has also taught me flexibility and leadership in tough situations,” Hoffman says. “There’s no homework problem that changes your time frame, materials, and variables 10 times before you get to a solution like these projects always do.”

Working with GeoEngineers, S&T students also are assessing how they can stabilize the banks of the Rio Palca River to prevent erosion of their farmland. The community relies on agriculture, and since it’s located in a mountain valley, there is nowhere else to move to get more crop land.

When S&T students return in May, they plan to install the first of a series of submerged rock structures designed to reduce erosion. “We are currently trying to gather data from Tacachia’s flooding events, which are a primary factor in the erosion,” Heath says. “The data gathered through the Tacachian residents will help us assess the best method of erosion prevention.”

By Mindy Limback
Learn more about the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders USA at Missouri S&T.
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  1. Richie Myers says

    You guys are awesome! Keep up the great work! I love this! Thank-you!

  2. Johanna Adamson says

    My son is a freshmen at S&T, when we visited campus, We saw a poster that talked about this project. We were so pleased to see, real life experience for the students. We also appreciate the ministry you are providing to this country in need. I believe students learn some much more about life when taken out of their comfort zone.
    Thank you for a job well done.
    Johanna Adamson