Engineers Without Borders Water Catchment Project

Besides its more obvious purpose as a place for the student garden to store tools and materials, the shed was initially proposed by the Engineers Without Borders Uganda Project as a way to prototype a rainwater collection system.

Starting in 2010, EWB has been working with the Ugandan village of Shilongo to improve its access to clean water.  The entire village currently relies on an intermitant spring (with contaminated water, not suitable for drinking) and a potable well as their only source of usable water.  With more than 850 people to serve, the well is not designed for efficient access to clean water, and as a result, the villagers end up wasting hours everyday waiting in line.

As the main part of the project, the goal of this EWB group is to work with the villagers to construct a storage tank for the water to pass through as it is pumped out of the well.  With a large tank, water can be stored for the two month-long dry season when demand for water is highest.  Another benefit of the storage tank is that it will have multiple spickets which will allow more villagers to access clean water at the same time, decreasing the amount of time wasted in waiting in line.

This however, only fixes part of the problem.  If the well dries up or somehow becomes contaminated, the villagers will lose their only source of clean water.  For that reason, the EWB group proposed to start a rainwater collection culture in the village.  As of now, the houses in the village are built with adequate roofing for this process, but lack gutters and cisterns for the collection of water, which EWB are in the process of designing.

One of the most difficult aspects of this project is figuring out how to design gutters and cisterns out of the limited materials available to the villagers (mudbricks, some cement, native vegetation, and wire). It is also not clear how well a system built out of these materials will store water so that it remains clean and usable over an extended period of time.  For this reason, EWB decided it would be a good idea to prototype and experiment with a rainwater collection system using similar materials to those available in Shilongo.  This is where the Student Garden comes into play, allowing EWB to use this shed for their experiments and models.

This project will benefit the Tufts community in a variety of very important ways. Most obviously, having a working rainwater catchment system will allow Tufts Engineers Without Borders to determine the viability of using mudbricks and concrete to build a cistern for rainwater collection. By closely monitoring the water quality over time, information will be collected to determine how long water can remain in the tank before becoming unsuitable for human use. Having an operating rainwater catchment system on campus will also allow experiments to be carried out relating cistern usage, temperature, lining, and other variables to the overall quality of water stored within the cistern. Furthermore, it will allow research to be conducted for the purpose of developing and evaluating simple, cost-effective methods for cleaning the cistern using only materials commonly available in the rural area surrounding Shilongo.

It is the hope of EWB and the Student Garden that the water collected from this project will not only provide adequate water quality research.  Using the stored rainwater to irrigate the student garden will reduce Tufts University’s draw on the municipal water supply and greatly increase the sustainability of the garden.

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