Cycling for water in the La Onza community

After several weeks of design and two days of installation in the field, the community of La Onza can now pump water directly from their shallow well into a nearby tank.

Water in the community of La Onza is very scarce in general and water in their deep well is too contaminated with arsenic and fluoride to be safe for consumption (see Caminos de Agua’s water quality monitoring map for details). In 2015, the community worked with Caminos de Agua and a team from Engineers Without Borders UK to build their first rainwater harvesting system at the local kindergarten and elementary schools (see Caminos de Agua’s project map for details). The cost for building rainwater systems for everyone is currently too great, but the need for safe and healthy drinking water remains immediate and critical.

The shallow well (the water surface is around 10 meters below ground level) is more than 100 years old and has historically been an important water resource for the community, albeit one that is difficult and dangerous to access. However, the arsenic and fluoride levels are substantially lower in this shallow spring-fed well than in the community’s deep well: fluoride is only slightly above the limit and arsenic remains low.

Members of the community previously had to extract water from the well using buckets tired to ropes - a dangerous process.

Members of the community previously had to extract water from the well using buckets tired to ropes - a dangerous process.

Therefore, this pump is intended to provide an accompanying solution to the immediate need for water: the community can mix water from the shallow well with rainwater collected in the cisterns, increasing the volume of safe water available to the community. By following Caminos de Agua’s dilution guidelines, the community can not only keep the mixed water below contamination limits for dangerous minerals but can actually obtain water with a mineral balance ideal for human consumption, as recommended by the World Health Organization.

The new pump can be powered either by bicycle or by hand. Members of the community previously had to extract water from the well using buckets tied to ropes, which were thrown into the well and then pulled up by hand. This is not only labour-intensive but extremely dangerous. Now the community can access this important water resource quickly and safely. Riding the bicycle to power the pump is also something that members of the community can enjoy, as well as providing them with a way of exercising.

The pump was designed especially for this well by Aaron Krupp, the research and technology coordinator at Caminos de Agua, along with other staff. It uses the principles of a rope pump, and is based on existing designs found on websites such as ropepumps.org.

The Caminos de Agua team will continue working with a small committee of community members over the coming year to monitor the operation of the pump.