Withering Waterways

Rarely do the residents of Utah Valley experience how severe the repercussions of living in a desert environment can be. Even amid the threat of water shortages each summer, and arid conditions year-round, most students never think twice about using water at what we deem the most basic level: the ability to have enough to drink and cook with each day, or the convenience of showering and laundering when we find a few spare moments.

This is not the case in Tamaula, Mexico, an isolated village forty-five minutes north of Mexico City. With a population of five to six hundred people, originating primarily from six different mestizo families, Tamaula sits on top of an extinct volcano that experiences a short rainy season each year. The rain gathered in reservoirs and catchment systems during these months is responsible for providing the majority of the drinking water residents must rely on.

What happens when the reservoirs and other water collection systems run dry in the community has more recently become the chief concern of a group of Utah Valley citizens, all of whom have joined together to seek remedies to water shortages in the region. Combining the knowledge and technologies of a nonprofit organization, the local municipality, UV academic institutions, and corporate sponsors, the residents of Tamaula will see the development of permanent, year-round water sources starting this spring.

At the forefront of the development project is CHOICE Humanitarian, a nonprofit started by local dentist Tim Evans in 1982. Based out of West Jordan, the CHOICE (Center for Humanitarian Outreach and Inter-Cultural Exchange) philosophy centers on motivating an end to poverty through sustainable village development. Through “expeditions,” CHOICE employs North American volunteers in humanitarian projects throughout the world, focusing on employing useful and safe technologies in culturally sounds ways.

In 1999, Joel Bradford, an assistant professor of environmental science, traveled with CHOICE to Tamaula, to document a micro-credit project that was being conducted there. “I made a video on a micro-credit program that CHOICE was running, and I saw the needs, so I volunteered to lead an expedition,” says Bradford. “That’s how I got involved, originally, with CHOICE. But, being a teacher, we (began) taking UVSC students down doing a lot of other projects as well. We built a health clinic, we developed the watershed, and attempted to do a slow sand filter that didn’t work very well.”

After Bradford’s initial involvement, the connection between CHOICE and UVSC continued to solidify as additional faculty and students were recruited to contribute based on their specialties. This May, UVSC will send four faculty members and six students to help develop the water projects in the village. Bill Dinklage and Mike Bunds, both professors in Earth Science, will coordinate a group of students in charting the geological terrain in order to provide more information about where clean, accessible water sources can be located.

“We are going to be in Mexico for two weeks, but we are going to be working on the project before we go down — especially the environmental stuff,” noted Bradford. “The geology students — their work is done mainly when we get down there, but the environmental students are going to be developing a rapid sand filter (here), because there is a learning curve we have to go through in order to take it and (be able to) implement it.”

The rapid sand filter, a device that takes very little technical prowess to run yet allows for the decontamination of runoff from the village’s watershed, is being implemented in collaboration with the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. As Bradford explains, collaborating with the Water Conservancy District is vital for the successful completion of the project in Mexico.

“They’ve got a model that they are going to teach us how to run the rapid sand filter on, and also how to build it, so when we get down (to Mexico) we’ll kind of know what we are doing,” says Bradford of the Water Conservancy District. “(The rapid sand filter) is essentially the same system (the District) uses to clean water, it’s just on a small scale. Instead of millions of gallons, it’s hundreds of gallons.”

The rapid sand filter is not the only avenue CHOICE and UVSC are exploring because, as Bradford explains, there is no single water source that will sustain the population over a long period of time. “I can see us working on this last big push for water for a couple of years, because it is not one magic bullet. It’s developing a series of ditches and small reservoirs on top of the mountain to draw the water down to the bigger reservoirs. It’s about developing springs — building cisterns and a system to distribute the water.”

To seek all possible supplemental water sources, CHOICE and UVSC are relying on the expertise and financial backing of US Synthetic, an Orem-based company that specializes in drill technologies. US Synthetic has become a long-time supporter of choice under the leadership of Louis Pope, whose parents, Bill and Margaret, are monuments in UVSC history for the donation of funds for the campus’ Pope Science Building.

“Our work with CHOICE is part of our company’s long term goal of community giving,” said Bob Johnson, one of the US Synthetic representatives who will be accompanying the CHOICE and UVSC team to Tamaura this spring. “It also provides an opportunity for our employees to give back and see the fruits of their donations through company paid expeditions.”

Even with the extensive involvement of local corporations and agencies, most development projects are strapped for cash and labor. The Tamaura project is no different, but as Bradford explains, the needs of the village are not about comfort, they are about survival. “You try living without water,” argues Bradford. “Shut all your taps off and haul your water in from someplace else, and it will tell (you) what the importance of water is.”

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