Archive for January, 2011

Despite what you may think, an electric shower is not a new interrogation strategy but rather a blissful end to cold showers for David and I.  You heard me…no more cold showers!  After 11 long months of suffering we finally bit the bullet and installed an electroducha.  (An electroducha is a large shower head attachment that uses electricity to heat the water as it passes through the head).

It’s not that we were trying to win a medal for most cold showers endured or anything but rather we were trying to avoid any damage to our rental house.   We had mentioned to our landlord early on that we wanted to install one but she didn’t know of anybody trustworthy or capable to complete the job.  We figured there was no use taking risks when mixing electricity and water so we held out for a better lead.  A few months past and we finally met a guy who knew a guy who had installed electroduchas in probably the nicest house in town so we gave him a call.

We asked him to come over and take a look at the situation because there were several challenges: 1)the existing shower head was extremely low (we both had to bend down) and 2) the pipes are literally concreted into the walls (no way to gingerly make adjustments).  When Tito showed up with his tool bag I realized he wasn’t just coming over for a consult.  After much chatting David finally convinced him not to blast through the concrete and instead a more “creative” approach was agreed on.

With that it was time to break out the tools.  Tito first tapped in to the hanging electric line that comes directly from the street pole to our house.  He then had his “helper”, a somewhat chubby 10 year old, climb onto our tin roof and run the cable all the way to the other side of the house.  Needless to say there was a lot of popping, snapping, and other noises that brought visions of a severed limb to mind.  Finally the young boy made it off the roof (unscathed) and then it was David’s turn to ascend to the top rung of a very rickety, homemade wooden ladder to feed the wire through the new hole in our concrete wall and into the shower.  Tito then rigged up a new breaker box, “rube goldberg’d” a series of PVC elbows, pipes, and connectors to add height, attached the electroducha, and grounded the wire.  Here’s what we ended up with…

Voila!! (Engineer’s brainchild)

It ain’t pretty but the important thing is, it works!  So now instead of dreading shower time we actually look forward to a nice warm shower…that is of course until the seasons change and it’s 105 degrees again and we return to cold showers.


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More Tulito Pics


Rodman Mario

Tiniest helpers

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One of the NGOs that Kristi and I have been working with recently is called Water for People (WFP) and is the international development “arm” of the American Water Works Association (AWWA).  We are assisting WFP on a project in the community of Tulito, Chinda, which is about 30 minutes by mototaxi from Trinidad (Two of those minutes are spent crossing a terrifying, temporary bridge constructed in the ‘80s after a major hurricane… not so temporary, huh?).

Bridge over troubled waters


Watch your step, or in many cases, the tire on your 3/4-ton pickup truck

Tulito currently shares a water source and storage tank with another, larger community.  The other community, who technically owns the tank, has decided to change water sources but wants to keep their tank.  This has forced Tulito into pursuing a new tank and the necessary new water infrastructure to connect a new tank to their existing distribution system.  Fortunately, Tulito will retain the right to the current water source and much of the existing water infrastructure (intake dam, conduction line and various valves) that connects the source to the old tank.  This will reduce project costs significantly.

WFP contacted me to help Tulito with a study, design, and budget related to the project.  In addition, I am providing designs and budgets for various improvements to their existing distribution system.  I will discuss these improvements later in this post.  WFP will take a report that includes the designs and budgets to various funding sources with the hopes of raising the capital necessary to keep the water flowing to the people of Tulito.

On our first visit to Tulito, Kristi and I came only with a GPS and a camera.  We completed a preliminary feasibility study that entailed hiking from the source down to the tank and along the entire existing water infrastructure taking GPS points and photos as we went.  For the most part, the conduction line from the intake dam to the point where we will branch off with a new line to a new tank was in good condition.  I only noted a few upgrades and fixes that should be made to improve the efficiency of the system to that point (sediment cleanout valves, air release valves, replacing PVC with iron pipe where necessary).  A flow study, to be used in the design phase, was done at an existing “rompecarga” or a pressure breaker.  This is a concrete box where the conduction line is exposed to atmospheric pressure so that the pressure in the pipe does not become so great that it could bust the pipes.

Intake dam and various water board members


At the suggestion of the president of the community water board, we also noted various improvements that may be made to the existing distribution system.  For one group of houses, the water service can be very patchy, especially in the dry season.  We are considering various fixes including upgrading to a one-inch pipe from a half-inch pipe and/or creating a looped-system, if possible.  The new tank site’s increase in elevation in comparison to the existing tank may resolve this issue without any upgrades.  In another part of the system, there has been a high frequency of leaks, largely due to the system’s age (~25 years).  In this area, I will likely suggest replacing the old line and possibly upgrading a portion of this line to one-inch from half-inch pipe.

Although much can be learned and designed using only GPS data, more precise survey data is required for most of the new design.  We returned to Tulito on two further occasions to complete the topographic survey.  With Kristi recording the data, myself on the theodolite, and the Tulito water board clearing the way, the survey went very smoothly and only lasted two days (I had initially estimated three).  We recorded more precise survey data for the new portion of the conduction line, the tank, the new waterline to connect the tank to the existing system, and along the various areas mentioned before as needing upgrades.

The water board was extremely helpful in guiding us along the way and also very knowledgeable about their system and what should probably be done to improve it.  Meals while we were in Tulito were provided by a community mother.  Each meal was expectedly delicious and surprisingly nutritious.  She explained to us that she and other community women have worked with, on numerous occasions, various NGOs about growing a variety of nutritious vegetables and on how to prepare balanced meals.  We were very grateful to be treated to a variety of campo-grown veggies.

Note: Kristi wowed the men in the community with her mad hiking skills proving a sometimes unknown fact here that women can do this stuff too.  I fell in the creek and soaked my socks proving also that Kristi has more hiking skills than me.  I also tripped over barbwire and performed a full spin, flat-on-back fall at one point.  We both, however, fall short on our ability to avoid chiggers suffering dozens of bites from our feet to our torsos…

We have some other pictures to share and will try to upload them another day when the internet is being more cooperative!


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For the past several months we have been working with the Honduran NGO, ADEC (Agua y Desarollo Comunitario) and IRWA (International Rural Water Association), on a potable water project in the community of La Fragoza. Our biggest accomplishment up to this point has been organizing and training the JAAS (read about that here) and getting the community members on board with the project – through visits to all of their houses and also several community meetings.

This past Sunday David and I held a “Filters Sale Day” at the community school, complete with refreshments (coffee and sweet rolls), to encourage the families to come and order their ceramic filter.  The filters are made in Sabana Grande, Honduras by a group called Potters for Peace.  The raw cost of the filter, which comes with a 3-5 gallon bucket with a spigot, is 330 Lempiras or about $17.  ADEC subsidizes the community’s first round of filters and in our case the families paid L.100 or a little over $5.  In this project, the community contribution will be used to purchase spare filters, storage buckets, and spigots in the case that these parts break during normal use.  The families will be required to buy these replacements from the JAAS when needed.   The JAAS was on hand to accept the money and practice giving receipts and keeping financial records for the first time – a topic we covered in December during one of their trainings.  We also had drawings of the filters and also the treatment tanks (to be installed in the school) in order to answer any lingering questions.


First official filter sale

The community requested that we meet on a Sunday because during coffee harvest (November-April) weekday meetings mean missing work time and losing money.  Transportation is one of the biggest challenges in this project and as there is no scheduled truck route on Sunday we had to rely on our friend, Juan, to drive us up there.  Thanks to Juan for giving up his Sunday morning!


Me and my helper serving (very sweet) coffee to the masses

As most things go in Honduras, most of the community members didn’t actually show up until about an hour after the listed start time, but we were really glad to see folks come out and order their filters.  The JAAS did a great job recording the sales and writing the receipts and David and Juan fielded the engineering questions while I addressed some of the health aspects.  All in all it was a very successful day!  By the time we left the JAAS had recorded 22 filter sales out of 36 total families.


Two members of the JAAS recording the sales

On Monday we made the trek to Marcala to the ADEC office to crunch some numbers and discuss the next phase of the project.   It can be a pretty long journey (up to 9 hours) but luckily we had a ride with the mayor of Trinidad ¾ of the way.  It was an important trip in terms of settling all of the logistics of the implementation phase and also getting the go ahead to begin scouting another community.  And it didn’t hurt that we got to catch up with Fred and PC friend Zach as well as treat ourselves to Marcala’s finest – empanadas, steak nachos, red wine, and smoked mozzarella cheese all the way from Copán, yum!  Thanks as always to Fred for putting us up and also the continuing support for our projects!

Next week we will be placing the final order for the filters and making the final preparations for the mini treatment plant site so that we can begin the implementation phase of the project in February.

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Many Central American towns and cities are fortunate to have an abundance of water sources located in the surrounding mountains.  So a lot of times the challenge is not getting water into the homes but rather cleaning that water so that it can be safely consumed by the people.

Nearly every medium-sized town (2,000 to 8,000 persons) that I have been to has relatively reliable sources of water and the infrastructure to transport that water to the townspeople.  Sources are typically mountain streams and springs captured in dams and spring-boxes.  The water is carried by metal and plastic pipes to storage tanks then to water distribution networks that serve the towns.  Traditionally, treatment consists of gravity sedimentation at the source and chlorination at the tank.  My experience is that the sedimentation is usually insufficient (under-sized sediment tanks) and that chlorination is often not done due to a myriad of factors including laziness, cost, and distaste by the community.

Many international organizations are currently experimenting with water treatment plants in developing countries.  Various possible solutions are being implemented from high-tech package plants to massive slow sand filter plants.  I have seen examples of each but neither seems to be the solution.  Package plants require tons of expensive electricity and highly trained technicians to staff the plants.  Slow sand filter plants are incredibly expensive and require large tracts of land for construction.  Both, as I have witnessed, have a life-span of about 5 years due to expensive maintenance procedures that simply are not done correctly nor frequently enough.

I have recently become part of a team with a new approach born out of university sponsored research and development in the US at Cornell University.  The project, named Agua Clara, is a partnership between the Civil and Environmental Engineering program at Cornell and a Honduran NGO – Agua Para el Pueblo (APP).  Undergraduate and graduate students at Cornell are providing the R&D and APP is implementing the technology on the ground here in Honduras.

The water treatment plants they have developed require zero electricity, two or three competent operators, and are highly effective at producing a clean drinking water for medium-sized towns at a low unit cost.  I have discussed these plants in a previous post.  More information about the technology and programs can be found at APP and Agua Clara’s websites.  The technology implements treatment processes common in US treatment plants (flocculation, sedimentation, chlorination) finely tuned to be a sustainable solution in developing countries.

I will be supporting APP and Agua Clara as they move forward with a Rotary Club-funded project in Atíma, Sta. Bárbara, about 3 hours from Trinidad.  My role is not yet completely defined, but I will likely be lending support in the area of site design through surveying and AutoCAD work as well as design plans review.

I met the students and their professor, Monroe, in Atíma where they presented the project to the town leaders and citizens.

Town Meeting

A small, functioning “pilot plant” was demonstrated for interested parties to observe.  In front of many of the people of Atíma, the students demonstrated the processes by which dirty water is transformed to agua clara.

Cornell students setting up the pilot plant before the meeting


For most of the students, it was their first trip to Honduras and they were well received by the gracious people of Atíma.  The project is scheduled to be under construction in the first trimester of 2011 and I will continue to post as the project moves forward.  Here are a couple more pictures from my trip to Atíma…

Crazy tree in the park in San Nicolas, on the way to Atima

View from one of the water sources above Atima

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Coming to America

Exactly ten months to the day since we first stepped foot in Honduras we boarded a plane headed back to the good ol’ USA.  Many preparations were made on the Honduras end to ensure a smooth trip –we packed up all of our valuables and scattered them at various friends’ houses around town, cleaned our house top to bottom, washed clothes, sheets, and towels for a week straight, “boarded” our cat with our former host mom, and unabashedly begged and bribed a coworker to drive us to the San Pedro airport an hour and a half away.

Needless to say we were a bit anxious about leaving our house unattended for nearly two weeks but thoughts of hot showers and dark beers were too enticing and so we set off.  We had been looking forward to our trip home forever but especially after we bought the tickets back in July.  As the time inched closer and closer it became a popular topic of conversation.  Finally by December it was all we could think or talk about!  We had pondered that maybe certain things would seem “weird” to us – trendy clothes, fancy cars, ethnic diversity, English speaking, etc.  But in the end we found it’s much easier to adapt to luxuries and conveniences than it is to leave them, go figure.

We reunited with our long lost Honey dog who didn’t hesitate a second to jump all over us and lick our faces.  We saw a half foot of snow on the day after Christmas which was a nice surprise and had us very glad that we arrived ahead of the storm and missed all the travel delays.  We ate.  We drank.  We showered way longer than necessary and slept late.  We hopped in the car whenever the desire struck and found it amazing to have the freedom of private transportation again.  To sum up our time in America – it was awesome, gluttonous, indulgent, fun, family and friend filled, and went by too fast!

A big thanks to our parents for catering to our every whim, it was great to be home!  Thanks to everyone who came out to see us and those that donated toothbrushes for an upcoming educational project.  We were also glad to restock our library with tons of books and magazines and even some new DVDs, thank you!  And thanks to those that contributed to my yarn stash – I have several fun crochet projects planned.

We came, we saw, we brought back 4 duffel bags of clothes, gifts, chocolate, wine, and pork.  Mission accomplished.

(PS.  In case you were wondering if David sang Neil Diamond’s “America” the entire trip home, the answer is yes)

Krohn’s plus a Lee

Lee's plus a Krohn

Definitely not in Honduras
Honey and Bandit – Snow Dogs, Go Dogs
Decorating/eating Christmas cookies
Samples of our creative genius

Christmas dogs…

Buffy guarding the stockings
Christmas Chihuahua

Grandma's Carly

Lee Open House Party…

Latest Arrival & Longest Drive winner...

Chocolate champagne bottle (Chocolatier Bradan pictured on left)

Party Crew

Other embarrassing photos…

David playing with resistance bands on Christmas morning
Wii can dance if we want to, Wii can leave our friends behind…

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