1,000,000 Liters of Safe & Healthy Drinking Water in 2017!

The letter that follows is the quarterly report that Caminos submits to the Globalgiving Platform. Read the original report and see more photos here.

Dear GlobalGiving Supporters,

Distributing ceramic filter systems

Distributing ceramic filter systems

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 the region.  Additionally, 30 filter systems were installed in the participating family members’ homes, allowing easy access to safe drinking water for more than 150 people!

The communities celebrated their achievement with an inauguration ceremony and party on December 16th (pictures provided).

Cistern inauguration in Arenal

Cistern inauguration in Arenal

In the end, we closed out 2016 by constructing 43 rainwater harvesting systems – representing more than 500,000-liters of safe water storage.  When combined with the more than 130 ceramic water filter systems provided in these projects, families in communities throughout the region have the ability to enjoy nearly 5.7 million liters of safe drinking water over the next 5 years before needing to change out their filters.   Much of this was made possible by GlobalGiving supporters like you!

We ended 2016 with a major push on GlobalGiving, and thanks to your support as well as a very generous match by the Gates Foundation, we were able to bring in nearly USD $8,000 to continue this work!  So, we hit the ground running in 2017.  Working closely with the United Communities for Life and Water Coalition, we began returning to the communities of San Antonio de Lourdes, Arenal, La Escoba, and Llano Verde in late January.  All of these communities suffer from some of the most severe water contamination and scarcity issues in the entire region and desperately need more access to safe and healthy water supplies.

We are currently working with these four communities to build 21 new rainwater harvesting systems, providing more than 250,000-liters of healthy water storage!  That is nearly half of the systems we were able to build in all of 2016! Additionally, we are beginning new rainwater projects with organizations like El Maíz Más Pequeño, where we will begin building a large-scale system with women at a local high school.

So, look out for one of our biggest updates in May! 

In the meantime, you can keep up with our work by reviewing our project map here.

We would like to sincerely thank Wageningen University who provided the funding for our end-of-2016 rainwater projects mentioned above.  Please have a look at this documentary made by the university regarding water issues in the region we work.

As always, many thanks to all of you here on GlobalGiving.  Your contributions at the end of 2016 are going to help us make our biggest impact yet in 2017!  Please consider supporting this project so we can continue to expand our work in creating a lasting impact on safe and healthy water supplies for communities that really need it.  

We are aiming to create 1 million liters of healthy water storage through our rainwater harvesting projects this year, doubling the impact we made in 2016!  We’ve still got a long way to go.  Please help us make this reality.

Dylan Terrell

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.

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.

Read the full report here:


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

As 2016 draws to a close, Caminos de Agua is proud to share our Year in Review ReportTake a moment to celebrate with us our impact on safe, healthy and sustainable water solutions. 

Dear Friend of Caminos de Agua,

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:
“How in the world do we get this much work done on such a small budget?!”
Indeed, this truly was a watershed year for the organization.  With our new name and narrowed focus, our work had a greater impact on safe, healthy, and sustainable water supplies, and I am more proud than ever of our accomplishments. 

In the report you will read about:

  • Groundbreaking developments in our water treatment program,
  • Expanding our ceramic water filters to more than 600 new families,
  • Reaching tens of thousands of new people with our water monitoring & mapping program,
  • Creating tangible impact on water quality and access for through the community-led installation of 43 new rainwater harvesting systems,
  • And so much more.

But to answer Rob’s original question on the how –  the answer, quite clearly, is collaboration and passion. 

We hired talented new staff as well as brought on five sensational volunteers and interns from around the globe who, despite being unpaid, literally work around the clock. We collaborate with renowned and impassioned researchers who work with us on the ground– offering up their expertise and vast experience for little more than a bed to sleep on.  We work with dedicated community organizers in 35 rural communities this year – whose residents provided well over 10,000 hours of volunteer labor!

But with everything we have accomplished this year, there is still so much more to do!

We count on your support to continue and expand our programs. Your individual donations make up roughly 25% of our annual operating budget—positively impacting real lives through critical water solutions. Take a moment to read about our accomplishments in 2016, and include us in your year-end giving.  

On behalf of the entire Caminos de Agua team, thank you for standing by us in 2016, and join us in 2017.

Saludos from San Miguel,

Dylan Terrell
Caminos de Agua, Executive Director

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 treatment is an appropriate solution for their water problems. Rainwater harvesting will increase their access to water and at the same time make sure that there are no chemicals or excessive minerals in their water. After any biological treatment, their harvested rainwater is safe, healthy and sustainable!

After the one week of training – where the community members learned to build their own rainwater harvesting systems – the community members finished all the six cisterns in just three weeks. The blessing ceremony held last Friday rang full of joy – in part, as one community member expressed – for the speed that the cisterns were completed. The young man commented as well on his pride of seeing a strong community bond develop over the course of the construction. The community wasn’t the only one pleased with thespeed and quality. Caminos de Agua staff Saul Juarez also commented that this project was the fastest he has witnessed to date.

On December 16th,  the community gathered together to celebrate. Padre Zesati and Padre Cesar blessed the cisterns together with the communities. After the blessing, both priests guided a reflection session where community members could express their experiences. The community shared a range of reflections- from how tired they were after the intense experience to comments about how motivating the experience was- and how that group motivation moved them along quickly.

At the end of the day, Caminos de Agua distributed the final installment of ceramic water filters to ensure that all families who participated in this project have a ceramic water filter to treat their water for biological contaminants, which is the last step before rainwater can be consumed. We journeyed back to San Miguel de Allende celebrating the communities’ success.

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

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Blessing 10 New Cisterns in San Antonio de Lourdes: A Reflection by Chantal Kronenburg

San Antonio de Lourdes is a rural community that is a part of San Miguel de Allende. Like many of the 500 villages around San Miguel de Allende, its population is small. San Antonio’s  population totals 29 women and 8 men. This summer, Caminos de Agua started a rainwater harvesting project there in conjunction with Engineers without Borders-University College of London. A total of ten new rainwater harvesting cisterns were built. The community members worked together to build these cisterns.

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Which glass of water is dangerous to drink?

Do you see any difference between the water in these two glasses? You can’t, right? But there is a big difference between these two. The one on the right is completely safe to drink, while the left one is contaminated with arsenic and fluoride.

You can’t see, smell or taste arsenic and fluoride in the water you drink, but over time consuming either can cause great harm, such as problems with your teeth but also more severe health problems like cancer. In the case of fluoride, young children are at the greatest risk, as they uptake fluoride quicker than adults.

Caminos de Agua tests wells to check on contaminants. 56 out of 97 wells that we’ve tested in rural communities in San Miguel contain dangerous levels of fluoride, arsenic or both (that’s more than 57%.) Seventeen of 36 samples in urban San Miguel which we have tested also contain dangerous levels. Do you know if YOUR water is safe to drink? Check our water quality maps to learn more about the safety of your water. You can also contact us to check your water quality.

New Water Education Materials in the Works

“It’s hard to explain water,” Caminos de Agua Executive Director Dylan Terrell is known to say.  “People think that most filters do everything and that’s not true.”

Chantal Kronenburg, a master’s student in Applied Communication Science, with a Bachelor’s Degree in International Development Studies from Wageningen University, The Netherlands, joins the Caminos de Agua team for a four-month internship to help us tackle the challenges of creating better educational campaigns and help us create “water literacy throughout the local populations as our Communications Fellow through this coming fall.”

“We want everyone to understand more about water…from how the water cycle works to what a watershed is to different water contamination issues. Often the scientists use one language that lay people just don't understand easily. It’s my job to help create materials that take complex ideas and make them much easier to comprehend,” shares Ms. Kronenburg, Communications Fellow.

Here in San Miguel de Allende, Caminos de Agua plans to have new materials about rainwater harvesting and water contamination in the region by the end of the year.

Be on the lookout for our new water educational materials which will be available on our website. Want instant access to the info? Follow our Facebook page.  Or visit our website where you’ll also see new website improvements thanks to Chantal.  Visit us in English or Spanish!

Welcome to the team, Chantal!

Cleaning the world's water: 'We are now more polluted than we have ever been'

August 31, 2016 (World Water Week), From the Guardian

In May 2000, around half of Walkerton’s 5,000 residents fell severely ill and seven people died when cow manure washed into a well. The extent of the water pollution in the small Canadian town was concealed from the public, people drank from their taps and the result was ruined lives.

For academic microbiologist Joan Rose, who has observed water pollution outbreaks around the world, it was the worst that she had ever experienced.

“It affected me the most. Walkerton is a small small farming community. The people there were very gracious. Two pathogens came in to their water supply. They did not know children would die, or would suffer kidney failure and be on on dialysis for the rest of their lives. I saw what it did to people. I saw the pain.”

Walkerton was one of Canada’s worst-ever pollution incidents but there are hundreds of similar incidents every year around the world, albeit mostly less serious, says Prof Rose, who is laboratory director in water research at Michigan State University.

Most come from people drinking water contaminated with sewage, she says. “In the US there are 12-18m cases of human water-borne diseases a year. In developing countries it is possible that one in three hospital cases may be due to contamination of water. We do not know exactly how bad it is but 1.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sewage treatment.

Rose, who this week was presented with the world’s most prestigious prize for water at a conference in Stockholm, is alternately depressed and optimistic at progress to clean the world’s water supplies and make water fit to drink.

“We have started to decrease mortality for waterborne diseases but the big problem now is morbidity [disease-related]. People are getting more sick. We are now more polluted than we have ever been”.

The statistics are dismal. This week the UN Environment Programme reported that “hundreds of millions” of people face health risks like cholera and typhoid from pathogens in water. Water pollution in Asia, Africa and Latin America is worsening, said the report, with pathogen pollution now in more than half of all rivers stretches on the three continents.

“There are 7 billion people and most of their waste is going into water. The water quality of lakes, rivers and coastal shorelines around the world is degrading at an alarming rate. There has been a great acceleration since the 1950s of human and animal populations, water withdrawals, pesticide and fertiliser use. But at the same time there has been a deceleration, or shrinkage, in wetlands,” says Rose.

“We are changing our lands. Land is the source of contamination, but climate is the driver [of contamination]. We know that the intensity of rainfall, storms and droughts is changing. More than 50% of community waterborne illness events in the US each year are associated with extreme rain.”

When it rains heavily or floods, pathogens like Leptospira, hepatitis, norovirus and cryptosporidium are all significant, she says. “There is a direct link between water pollution, certain food-borne disease outbreaks and warmer oceans. Temperature, precipitation, humidity and flooding are all factors in contamination of water and food systems by pathogens. Many developing nations suffer terribly from illnesses caused by lack of sewage treatment facilities which are exasperated by climate.”

Meanwhile, sewage contains well over 100 different viruses. Newly emerging viruses such as Cycloviruses, which are causing neurological problems in children in Asia, are also emerging in sewage and are spreading.

“Pollution is spreading to every part of the world. Everywhere is now under huge new attack from viruses and pathogens,” she says.

Rose has led research into how new pathogens and viruses are being spread around the world by hitching rides in the ballast water which ships take on to stabilise them on long journeys. They are picking up viruses in one ocean or sea and bringing them to others, she says

“We are infecting the food chain, and the whole system. I am thinking what are we missing about the bio-health of the planet. What do we know about what is happening in the wild? Frogs are dying, starfish are dying. We focus so much on humans we don’t know about much else. Every part of the world is now under huge new attack from viruses and pathogens.” 

The answer, she says, must be massive investment in water infrastructure. “But in the US alone, it’s estimated that what is needed is $70 per person per day for 10 years. In developing countries its far more.”

But it has to be worth it, she says. “Access to clean water is a central stabilising force in societies and lack of access destabilises societies. As a microbiologist, I believe that the provision of safe drinking water is the basic building block of a healthy and successful society.

“It is hard to progress when you are fighting cholera, or when there is an epidemic of child malnutrition as in India due to exposure to untreated water contaminated with fecal waste.”

The better news, she says, is that scientists can now monitor pathogens better and track their sources. “What took three weeks to diagnose now takes 24 hours. There is more public support, more money, more political will to clean up water. We have more knowledge and more willingness to pay.

“The key is education, specifically development of a global water curriculum to prepare the next generation of problem solvers. The need is enormous.”