Warka Water designs and Caminos de Agua

This year began with good news: staff member Casilda Barajas was awarded a grant by the Popular Cultures of Guanajuato Program (PACMYC 2017) to pilot the construction of a tower woven with local natural fibers that can function as a method of capturing air water, specifically dew. She proposed to develop the project with her group "Arqui-textures, from Basket to Architecture" in collaboration with Caminos de Agua and the designer and ceramist, director of Azul Cobalto, Oscar Vazquez Alanis. During the month of February they held three sessions to discuss the project and take the first steps. A station was designed, constructed and installed on the site to measure the viability of the water tower at a height of 3 meters. Different meshes were mounted as capturing surfaces. We hope to obtain results of the monitoring that is being done. Based on the design of "Warka Water" the aim of this work is to provide the community with a creative and sculptural alternative that will inspire to harvest every last drop of clean water for drinking. We will keep on reporting. Stay connected.

1 Million Liters of Safe & Healthy Drinking Water in 2017!

During our last update in late November 2016, we were just finishing a capacity training in a small rural community where we built a 12,000-liter rainwater harvesting system over the course of a week with local community members.  From that point, we continued building additional systems in the communities of Arenal, La Escoba, and Llano Verde.  By early December, all six 12,000-liter systems were finished – providing healthy and safe drinking water to dozens of families in....

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70,000+ pesos raised for safe, healthy & sustainable water with Naomi Klein

Caminos de Agua was privileged to be the beneficiary of the San Miguel de Allende Writers' Conference "Write for Change" event, featuring author Naomi Klein this past Sunday.

Caminos de Agua Board member Rob Lerner presented our work before Naomi's keynote address. Naomi inspired all of us as she wove together reflections from three of her books, No Logo, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, and her latest, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. She wrapped up the question and answer period with a reminder to act locally and to support our work.

As audience members spilled out of the hall, volunteers awaited with empty water carboys with filters. Those carboys quickly filled up with pesos and dollars for a total of over 70,000 pesos. That is equal to SEVEN rainwater harvesting cisterns or almost 150 ceramic water filters systems. The funds will be divided in building rainwater systems, ceramic water filter system distribution to social projects and our research in fluoride and arsenic removal with biochar.

Once again, our thanks to our crew of volunteers, Rob Lerner, Naomi Klein, the SMA Writers' Conference, and last but not least, the hundreds donated on Sunday.

Sarah and Daniela with two of the donation-filled carboys after the event.

Sarah and Daniela with two of the donation-filled carboys after the event.

Naomi Klein signs "one last book" with Dylan Terrell.

Naomi Klein signs "one last book" with Dylan Terrell.

Board member Rob Lerner and volunteer Daniela del Villar after the event.

Board member Rob Lerner and volunteer Daniela del Villar after the event.

Work Retreat

On February 7, 2017 the Caminos de Agua Staff had a staff retreat to review our goals and work objectives for the current year. Jenn and Dylan served as facilitators for this  participative experience that gave us structure and vision, setting priorities, organizing short-, medium- and long-term activities. One aspect was to look at personal and life goals of all work team members to achieve better life-work balance. Together, we looked to weave personal goals with our common organizational goal: safe, healthy and sustainable water for all. We set a goal of a million liters of rainwater catchment, the development of an integrative educational course and to increase ceramic water filtration system distribution as well as to pilot our first systems to remove fluoride and arsenic.

Rainwater Harvesting Calculator Launched!

Front screen

Front screen

Many people ask us, “How much rainwater do I really need to collect?” 

Each household’s water use is  different. It depends on family size, location, and regular activities. People use rainwater for various purposes: some only for drinking, others for washing their car, watering their plants, or feeding their animals. Water use varies greatly around the globe. 

Example results page: green indicates that you more than sufficient roof space to collect all your household's essential water.

Example results page: green indicates that you more than sufficient roof space to collect all your household's essential water.

The size of your collection tank(s) or cistern(s) also depend(s) not only on your use, but also on your roof's area and your regional rainfall. 

Caminos de Agua has been working on general regional recommendations. Our “generic” guideline for capturing rainwater for drinking and cooking in Guanajuato's Independence Watershed is four square meters of roof area and eight hundred liters of storage capacity per person in the household.

There are many calculators online already. When we evaluated them, we deemed many too simple,  too complex or too specific. (These examples may work for you, so don't take our word for it, check them out.)

Example results page: red warns you that your roof isn't large enough to collect all your essential water!

Example results page: red warns you that your roof isn't large enough to collect all your essential water!

We thought that we could create something that better served our local population’s needs. We are now launching our calculator that is regionally-relevant, globally applicable, and easy-to-use to help households and communities size their rainwater harvesting systems. This is a pilot and we welcome comments and suggestions. 

If you live in the Independence Watershed region, you need only provide your household size, roof area, roof type, and the location of your home: we've integrated local data into the calculator. If you live elsewhere, you will need to supply your monthly rainfall data, which can often be obtained through regional or federal agencies or here, for many supported countries. Check here for data for many areas. 

The results tell you how much water your current house can collect and how to store it. It also calculates the minimum roof area and cistern size your household would need to meet its essential water need (the amount required for drinking and cooking every day, during an average year). Just remember, although rainwater is free of almost all contaminants, you still need to treat the biological contaminants (bacteria, viruses, etc.) for it to be safe!

Again, if you have any questions or comments, contact us! If you are an NGO or rainwater harvesting organization and you have regional rainfall data that you'd like included, please let us know. 



Ceramic Water Filters - 3.5 Years Later

After three and a half years of continued use in community homes, we recently had the opportunity to return to our first pilot communities - Juan Gonzalez and La Cienega - where we installed 68 filter systems in community homes and schools.  We were able to change out some of the systems to see if they were still working at the same efficiency as they did when they were first installed.  In total, 15 systems were taken back to the Caminos site for follow-up testing by Engineers Without Borders-UK placement, Sarah Mitchell.

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Research & Technology Update: January 2017

Sarah puts together a six-piece biological ceramic- filter for the column-testing setup. 

Sarah puts together a six-piece biological ceramic- filter for the column-testing setup. 

Billy, Saul, and Sarah build the biomas dryer. 

Billy, Saul, and Sarah build the biomas dryer. 

A 3.5 year old ceramic filter – still treats dangerous water to safe levels! 

A 3.5 year old ceramic filter – still treats dangerous water to safe levels! 

 Caminos de Agua (Caminos) has a growing research and development team. Our staff and volunteers are working on various projects from filter development, to rainwater systems, to improvised machinery.

This update highlights a few of our technical projects.

Multi-use Bicycle Pump

In collaboration with El Maíz Más Pequeño, we designed and built a custom-made bicycle stand that can attach to any bicycle to make a “bicibomba” - a bicycle-powered water pump. It can be used to pump water from ground level, for example from a rainwater cistern, to either a filter, a small rooftop cistern, or directly into your home. The bicycle is dual-purpose: it can be used as transportation and as a pump (many bicycles converted to pump are designed solely for that purpose).  The bicycle stand that is used while pumping converts into a rack over the rear wheel. We are now working on a second version of the bicycle pump and will post our finalized, open-source designs once they are complete. Thanks to Maya Pedal for design inspiration!

Carbon Filter Research

To combat the regional arsenic and fluoride contamination, we are developing new carbon filters that can remove these contaminants from drinking water. These filters work together with our existing ceramic filters. To test our filters we are currently constructing our column-testing setup that allows us to run four tests simultaneously.  We are also working on designing a prototype filter system. We will use the column setup to test new materials as we continue our research to improve our filters. The prototype system will soon be deployed in a local community to help us better understand how people use drinking water filters in their day-to-day lives. 

Fun with fans

Our team has recently purchased a couple of fans for other motorized projects. Using an industrial fan and some lumber, we built a biomass dryer for drying wood, bones, and biochar to make our material production processes more consistent. With a standard ceiling fan, we also built a sample tumbler that will let us quickly compare materials for how well they remove fluoride or arsenic from drinking water. With these projects complete, we are gearing up for rapidly making, testing, and improving a variety of cheap, accessible materials.

In other news, we are developing a rainwater calculator that allows people in the region (and around the world) to size their own rainwater harvesting systems. Keep your eyes open for the calculator's upcoming release on the Caminos website.

Ceramic Filter Follow Up Studies

Finally, we recently tested twelve ceramic filters that had been in constant in-home use for the past three and a half years. Despite the filters' pocked and pitted appearances, all twelve continued to make biologically-dangerous water safe for human consumption! We're excited to see how long our ceramic filters remain effective as we continue to monitor our in-use systems. We'll post more about each of these projects as they improve and progress. Thanks for tuning in to January's tech update!



Celebrate with us: Year in Review ~ 2016

Thanks to people like you, 2016 was our most impactful year to date, and I am happy to share with you our Year in Review Report that highlights some of our major accomplishments.

In preparing this report, I struggled to decide what to highlight and whom to thank.  The lists kept growing and growing, and I was struck by a comment made recently by one of our board members – Rob Lerner – who asked:

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San Luis de la Paz: Six new cisterns to close out 2016!

Caminos de Agua led a training at the end of November for four rural communities in San Luis de la Paz (Llano Verde, Arenal de Arriba, La Escoba, and Arenal de Abajo). Some of these communities have almost no access to water (only 200 liters once or twice a month). Other people in these communities have occasional access to water, but their water source is severely contaminated. Rainwater harvesting combined with any biological...

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Rainwater Harvesting Project: Capacity Training in San Luis de la Paz

Rainwater harvesting represents an inexpensive, easy to use, and sustainable water solution for local communities. Rainwater harvesting means that we are not extracting water and  that means we are not interrupting the natural hydraulic cycle. So, it is a great solution for water access  in the Independence Watershed where Caminos de Agua works.  

San Luis de la Paz, near San Miguel de Allende, is a municipality with a large town at its center as well as many different outlying rural communities. Their current water situation is one of the worst in the region

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Ongoing Bonechar Research

Thanks to our research team and Elena Diek’s creativity who built it, we now have our own shake table to be used in our ongoing bone-char research. After the bone-char is soaked in acid (a process that changes the char’s structure on the micro-scale to allow it to filter out the fluoride more efficiently), it is mixed with fluoride-rich water. Testing will see the biochar removal efficiency in a series of batch tests. The shake table agitates the samples during these tests, to ensure the bone-char interacts more fully with the water and increases removal. 



EWB-UK showcases Caminos de Agua

Our current Engineer Without Borders volunteer, Billy Thurstonm and Nicolas Vargas, our head on water filter quality, are showcased in Engineers without Borders-United Kingdom. Check out this document elaborated by EWB on their impact where Caminos de Agua was highlighted. The article focuses on the problems of water contamination in our Watershed, both biological and chemical as well as our research on bone-char to tackle chemical contaminants. ”Using bone-char to remove fluoride and arsenic may be a ground-breaking development in the field of water treatment. It's a cheap and readily available way to deal with these common contaminants", said by Billy Thurston. Read the whole article here.

Small-Scale Rainwater Harvesting Workshop Los Lopez. Using New Educational Materials

On Monday, October 17th, Caminos de Agua piloted a new small-scale rainwater harvesting workshop in the community of Los Lopez. Dylan Terrell and Saul Juarez started the workshop with a presentation regarding regional water quality and access problems and related health issues as well as the concrete water problems happening in the community itself. Additionally, the importance of rainwater harvesting was discussed. This was Caminos de Agua’s first workshop fully focused on small-scale rainwater harvesting that can be replicated in community homes for little cost.

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New Webpage with Educational and Informational Materials

We are excited to announce a new page on our website where you can access all of our various new educational materials and information sheets. These materials delve into different kinds of water issues all related to our work. For example, different water terms - like safe, healthy and sustainable water - are explained. Materials on how to design your own rainwater harvesting system are also available on this page. Additionally, more materials are underway which contain information about ongoing water issues in our watershed. So, stay tuned and check this page regularly to learn more!

You can review this new webpage, materials, and info sheets here. These materials are currently in a trial phase. So we welcome your feedback. Contact us with your comments. 


Biochar Research Updates: New Research Coordinator

Aaron Krupp joined the Caminos de Agua team in September to coordinate research efforts, focusing on the research and development of our water filtration media for arsenic and fluoride mitigation. Aaron is a well-travelled mechanical engineer originally from the United States. Last year Aaron was recognized with a prestigious Watson Fellowship which facilitated his research into diverse “technologies designed for function and accessibility [that] can help break the cycle of poverty”. In this yearlong fellowship, he worked on systems that remove biopathogens and dissolved chemicals from drinking water.  Aaron brings that experience and his “desire to increase opportunity in the world with enthusiasm for technology design and clever, low-tech mechanisms” to Caminos de Agua.

As Caminos de Agua looks to expand our “water toolkit,” we recognize that our ceramic water filters do an excellent job in removing bacteria, but we also need a low-cost filter which removes fluoride and arsenic (a key challenge for many wells in the region). We have been working with biochar as an exciting possibility for over three years now. Biochar has several advantages which ignite our imagination. 1) Biochar can be made by heating up almost any biological material – these resources are readily available. 2) The kilns we use do not pollute and are made from cheap, locally-sourced metal barrels. 3) Filtration systems with biochar are gravity-fed and do not requireelectricity. 4) The manufacturing process is small-scale and replicable on the community level.

Our research on biochar-based water filtration systems for arsenic and fluoride at the household level is currently conducted by Aaron Krupp, Elena Diek and Billy Thurston in conjunction with Dylan Terrell. Our research is centered on bone and wood based chars.

Research projects:

  • The use of bonechar made out of cow bones for removing fluoride from drinking water. This line of investigation is ongoing. The team is currently analysing acid-washing practices as an option for better fluoride mitigation. Soaking bonechar in acid changes the char's structure (on the micro-scale) in such a way that it can filter out the fluoride more efficiently.
  • The use of an iron-impregnated woodchar for arsenic removal. The team is verifying a tested formula for iron-coated woodchar.
  • Physical filter development. The team is analysing and testing different water filtration designs to be used in conjunction with our ceramic water filter. The ideal design will work readily with any biological treatment system. The results of the current testing of various biochars for fluoride and arsenic removal will strongly influence the design possibilities.