Waterways - Newsletter Caminos de Agua (Vol. 1, Issue 1)
Two Months. Thirty Families
Addressing the need for more comprehensive water solutions in San Miguel
“Has it been two months?” I ask myself, distracted, as a woman talks about working with her neighbors over the last eight weeks. “That can’t be right, can it?”
We’re back in San Antonio de Lourdes, a rural village about an hour northeast of San Miguel. Their well went dry in 2010, and they have been without water since. I’ve found this to be such an absurd concept that, when I talk about it, most people assume that I’m being hyperbolic. I am not. To survive, families buy large plastic tanks, load them in their trucks, and go from one village to the next, asking for water. They often fill their tanks at nearby irrigation wells – water so high in arsenic and fluoride as to be unfit for consumption. Show more
As wells run dry, rainwater, naturally free of arsenic and fluoride, becomes an obvious alternative. Today we’re celebrating ten new rainwater systems in San Antonio built by local families themselves and representing more than 2,000 hours of exhaustive labor.
Between the joyful stories and shared comida, I can’t stop thinking, “This project started over two months ago?”
Two months. Thirty families. The math is discouraging. There are another 90 families in San Antonio that still need water, not to mention 10s of thousands more throughout our region. Forty million dollars and a team of 100 people working for a decade; that might make a dent. Meanwhile, a new generation is drinking arsenic- and fluoride-laden water all around us. The need is simply too great and ever growing to rely on rainwater alone. But appropriate filters for arsenic and fluoride simply don’t exist – yet.
Recognizing this urgency, we have been working to develop an arsenic and fluoride treatment system to get thousands off of contaminated water quickly and inexpensively. It’s taken us four years, more than a dozen engineers and technical interns, and unprecedented support from NC State University and Engineers Without Borders UK to get us here. Today, we can finally say that we’re field-testing a practical, affordable solution to this massive public health challenge.
We designed our Groundwater Treatment System under real world conditions. We chose to truck in thousands of liters of contaminated water from a local community, instead of just mixing up the right “water cocktail” in our lab. We chose to run our trials over weeks and months, instead of hours or days. We chose not to make assumptions, resulting in countless nights sleeping in our lab to make sure we didn’t miss a data point.
Because of these choices, and the extra work entailed, we have no technical doubts. This system can produce affordable arsenic- and fluoride-free drinking water, water I wouldn’t hesitate to serve to my own 3-year-old daughter.
Over the next eight months, we will be piloting household-scale systems, strategically placed throughout the region, as well as a large-scale system that will produce drinking water for two communities just 15 minutes outside of San Miguel. These pilot installations will help us answer questions about system performance and the user experience, enabling us to go from serving tens of families to tens of thousands.
- Dylan Terrell (executive director) -
Owning the Problem
For too long, water quality and access issues in San Miguel de Allende have been seen as someone else’s problem, and easily ignored, since it only affected small, remote, rural communities underserved by scarce government resources. Today, someone else’s problem has become everyone’s problem. Virtually all wells in our region have elevated and steadily worsening levels of arsenic and fluoride, all the more sinister because these contaminants are odorless and colorless. Government attention and community action are desperately needed. Show more
Our shared aquifer is being rapidly depleted. This affects all of us. Today, arsenic and fluoride contamination is as prevalent in the urban center as it is in rural communities. Traditional water filters, including those elaborate “whole house” filter systems found on many homes in San Miguel, can’t touch arsenic and fluoride.
Caminos de Agua has been engaged with water issues in the greater San Miguel area for many years. Through our monitoring program, we have gained valuable knowledge on the deteriorating water quality plaguing our region, while also providing at-risk communities with reliable information on their water supplies. By partnering with communities in implementing technical solutions, such as rainwater harvesting, we are not only minimizing health risks, but also proving ourselves as a reliable resource for addressing the region’s water quality and scarcity challenges.
Today, we feel an increasing responsibility to educate the entire community on these issues because, for the first time, our entire community is directly impacted. As our community grows larger and more diverse, our communication, education, and outreach programs must expand and diversify to keep up. This newsletter is part of that effort, so you can better understand who we are, what we do, and why this work is so critical.
I am proud to be a part of a growing multinational team of organizers, educators, engineers, and technologists – a mix of paid staff, volunteer interns, and senior advisors. This talented group applies its unique set of skills to the development, implementation, and communication of open-source solutions that can be replicated globally to improve the quality of life for countless others.
I hope you find this newsletter informative and that it inspires you to take action to protect yourself and others. We need your help. Visit our website at www.caminosdeagua.org to learn more.
- Paco Guajardo - (associate director) -
1 Million Liters of Safe and Healthy Drinking Water
Wells are drying up in and around San Miguel de Allende and the water that remains is often contaminated with toxic levels of arsenic and fluoride, known to cause crippling skeletal fluorosis, developmental disabilities, mental retardation, organ failure, and cancer. Children are at greatest risk as their growing bodies absorb these minerals at higher rates. Dental fluorosis, that unsightly browning of teeth, marks a child for life. Show More
Rainwater, on the other hand, is immune to the threats of water-table loss and is inherently free of arsenic and fluoride. Combined with our certified ceramic water filter that removes biological pathogens, rainwater becomes a safe and healthy water source. Our community-led rainwater harvesting projects improve community health, reduce stress on over-extracted aquifers, and give people control over their water supply.
Join us in our One Million Liter Rainwater Harvesting Challenge, which will provide more than 1,000 people in our region access to safe and healthy drinking water. Together with local community partners and grassroots organizations, we will build 85 (12,000-liter) capacity Rainwater Harvesting Systems and provide 250 Ceramic Filters. This comprehensive program includes technical training for local communities, water awareness and education, water quality testing, and accompanying technical manuals and educational supplements.
Help us bring a million new liters of healthy water storage capacity to dozens of local families throughout our region. We are currently working in the communities of Pozo Hondo and La Vaciada. More than 50 families are participating, but we currently only have the funding to build 25 Rainwater Harvesting Systems. The rains are coming, so we must act soon if we want to make an impact this season. To learn more or to make a donation, click here.
- Jennifer Ungemach (operations coordinator) -
How We Work
From the lab to the community…and back again
At Caminos de Agua, we develop practical solutions to water quality and scarcity challenges, and we partner with communities at risk to assure safe, healthy, and accessible drinking water. In other words, we’re fact-based and community-focused.
Fact-based, because water quality challenges are diverse and complex; there’s no such thing as a universal fix. Worldwide, the most common water quality challenge is waterborne pathogens. Fortunately, most pathogens are easily eliminated by simple filters, such as our certified Ceramic Filter. Show More
Unfortunately, our local water supply is also laden with arsenic and fluoride — odorless, colorless contaminants that cannot be removed by ordinary filters. Long-term consumers suffer dire health consequences. Arsenic and fluoride can be removed by reverse osmosis, but these systems are costly and wasteful – not appropriate for communities most at risk.
Determined to come up with affordable alternatives, we partner with universities and NGOs, including NC State University, Engineers Without Borders UK, University College of London, Texas A&M University, University of Guanajuato, University of Oregon, Kansas State University, and the National Public Health Institute in Mexico. Several of these partners have helped us to develop our Groundwater Treatment System, which removes arsenic and fluoride from water supplies cheaper and more efficiently than reverse osmosis. This month, we’re taking our new system out of the lab and into the field for our first pilots.
All Caminos technologies are tested under real-world conditions, utilize common materials easily found around the globe, and are open-source; so the solutions we’re developing here in Central Mexico are free for others to use without restriction or license.
Community-focused, because the experience of countless aid organizations has demonstrated that fixes handed down from experts are rarely adopted. We form partnerships with grassroots organizations and follow the initiative of local leaders. Our Rainwater
Harvesting program is a great example. Community members provide thousands of hours of volunteer labor and, more importantly, make all decisions regarding the project. In this way, our water solutions help strengthen local communities.
Our process includes trainings and community-led workshops, supported with our educational materials and technical manuals, and is followed by monitoring and evaluation programs so we can measure our progress and better adapt to the needs of the communities
we serve. Our community partners include: Pozo Ademado Community Services, The San Cayetano Community Center, El Maíz Más Pequeño, and United Communities for Life and Water, a coalition of 21 rural communities in the most impacted region of our aquifer.
Caminos de Agua is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the U.S. as well as a Mexican Asociación Civil (A.C.)
- Dylan Terrell (executive director) & Rob Lerner (board of directors) -
Sarah Hartman joined our research and technology development team last fall after graduating from the University of Delaware. With her background in environmental engineering, Sarah has been focusing on getting our Groundwater Treatment System – designed to remove arsenic and fluoride – out of the lab and into the field. During her time with us, Sarah worked on proving that locally made bone char effectively removes fluoride. Besides her role in the lab, Sarah co-led a project where kids converted used filters into flowerpots and she drove us to keep our spaces ordered and clean. Show More
Sarah says that her time at Caminos de Agua has been “an incredible experience to deepen my understanding of practical technologies that provide accessible water solutions to individuals.” Although we are sad to see her go, Sarah is headed to the Philippines on a Fulbright Scholarship to continue studying rainwater harvesting. We are excited about the path she’s on and hope to see her continue working to ensure safe and healthy water for all.
The Haynes and Harris Matching Challenge
In the philanthropic style that is so common to these two gentlemen, Howard Haynes and Bill Harris have presented a most generous challenge to the San Miguel public. Recognizing the critical importance of the new Caminos Groundwater Treatment System, Howard and Bill have offered to donate USD $5,000 if Caminos de Agua can raise the same amount from other donors by September 1st of this year.
Please help us meet Howard and Bill’s challenge.
Your generous donation will allow Caminos de Agua to continue this important work.
Every Donation Counts!
Donations are tax-deductible in the US to the
extent permitted by IRS regulations.
To make a donation, click here
Payment methods: Credit Card or PayPal
Do you prefer to write a check?
US checks can be mailed to:
Caminos de Agua
11 S. Green St., Unit 1508
Chicago, IL 60607
or delivered to:
Caminos de Agua
c/o Dylan Terrell
La Conexion, Box 826A
San Miguel de Allende
Do you want to know the quality of the water you drink?
Caminos de Agua offers private water testing services via our website. There, you will find more information on the types of testing that we offer, and instructions on how to send us your testing request. Collect your water samples, and drop them off at our lab in Colonia Independencia, San Miguel de Allende.
Within two weeks of delivering your sample, we will send you a water quality report, including all testing results, conclusions about your water quality, and recommendations that can be followed to ensure that the water you drink in the future is safe and healthy.
For more information, please contact the Caminos de Agua Lab by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone on (415) 154-1102.
Fundraising Committee Members