Building Sustainable Water Systems in Guatemala

RCM continues its partnership with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) through a new grant supporting a project in Visiban, Guatemala: implementation of an economically and socially sustainable system that will provide readily available clean water to meet the community’s needs for the next twenty years. 


The World Community Service Committee has supported EWB through contributions since 2006.  In addition, the first Orth grant of $10,000 was made in 2012 to EWB to support their “circuit rider” program, administered in partnership with a local Guatemala NGO. The circuit rider program provides technical assistance and training to the rural communities to keep Engineers Without Borders projects running, which is key to projects in lesser-developed countries of the world.


RCM has made a new commitment of $4,000 to the Visiban project, our latest EWB partnership. To leverage these funds, RCM has applied for a Rotary International grant that would bring total Rotary contributions to $15,000.


Visiban, a village of 200 people located in the Quiche region of Guatemala, is in dire need of a complete water distribution system.  Currently the villagers capture rainwater from their rooftops during the rainy season.  This water lasts approximately 6 months of the year, leaving them searching for supplemental sources. In addition to increased health issues, the lack of sustainable access to clean drinking water burdens Visiban residents with the need to haul water, a burden that falls disproportionately upon school-aged children. The consequence is time lost in the classroom for elementary education leading to elevated levels of illiteracy.


The village has purchased a spring that will meet the water needs of all current and future households for the next twenty years.  The spring is located below the village and requires an electrical pump to bring the water above the village to an elevated distribution tank.  The water will then flow from the distribution tank to all homes in the village by gravity.


This January, Rotarians Mike Paddock and Leni Siker traveled with EWB students from UWM to Guatemala.  Students worked with local villagers in Visiban to complete Phase I, construction of the spring box, which will protect the spring water from animal waste contamination from surface water flow and enable villagers to obtain water from a safe, nearby source. EWB students also conducted a site survey to determine the conveyance line for water from the spring box to the distribution tank, and from the distribution tank to the village homes.


Leni made contact with the Rotary Club of Guatemala City (RCGC), which will contribute funds and guidance for the Visiban project. Securing a District grant requires the participation of a Rotary club in the project area. Serving as the project’s liaison with the RCGC, Leni will ensure accountability for Rotary funds and help with the final report at the project’s conclusion.


Our grant will fund one of the subsequent phases. Phase II will consist of construction of a storage tank, pump house, two distribution tanks, chlorination box, and the conveyance line from the spring box to the distribution tanks.  This phase is scheduled to be completed in June 2013.


Phase III, scheduled for January 2014, will consist of the pump installation, construction of the local distribution pipe system bringing water from the distribution system to individual homes, and installation of tap stands and meters to measure home water usage at each home.


Marissa Jablonski, a UWM graduate student and mentor on the Visiban project, described its impact: “Rotary has a direct impact on the EWB students who get to put their engineering education into practice – and a direct impact on the 200 villagers of Visiban. This village was a forgotten village, and they are so grateful for the support of EWB and Rotarians thousands of miles away in Milwaukee.”