Rainwater Harvesting: Entering a New World of Possibilities for Dry Communities

As written by Katie Reed

Michael Reed is a volunteer with Pure Water in Honduras. He graduated from Clemson University with a degree in Chemical Engineering in 2010. He was employed by Dow Chemical prior to volunteering with Pure Water. He hopes to focus his career on large scale water treatment for developing countries.

Michael began working on a project, a new venture for Pure Water, in August of this year. The project was completed on October 10th. I sat down with Michael to ask him a few questions about rainwater harvesting and his experiences.

What is rainwater harvesting?

Rainwater harvesting is the process of capturing rainwater as it flows off of a roof. The water from the roof is diverted into a gutter system that brings the water to a large ferrocement tank. The tank is designed to store the water for daily use: flushing latrines, washing hands, cooking, etc. Ferrocement is a technique new to Pure Water, but has been used for many years in the developing world. It is basically concrete reinforced with two layers of thin wire. This allows the construction to be very strong, but affordable enough for poor communities to build an otherwise costly tank. It has a top and a way to enter to clean it out every few years. It has a spigot near the bottom to make the water accessible.

Why is it important?

This school, like a lot of homes in the communities around Trojes, does not have a water source close by. For the entire year, the only way to get water is for the children to carry the water the long walk from their homes. The children usually only carry the bare minimum water to drink for the day; not including washing hands, flushing latrines, or cooking. Rainwater harvesting gives them a sufficient quantity of water for each kid’s daily needs. It frees the children from having to carry water every day. Ensuring they have enough water to drink and enough water to do the things that Pure Water has been educating them on: washing hands, proper latrine use, etc.

Who will this project serve?

It will help 40+ children in the community school of Flor de Valle. This is the community where one of our promoters lives. It will
not only be a big help for the children, but also for the mothers who take turns cooking the mid-day meal for the children at the school. It will allow the school to focus on the educational needs and not always worry about how much water is left. The community made a big contribution by assisting in the construction of the system because they knew their children would benefit from their investment.

How was the school chosen?

We were aware of the school situation because one of our promoters lives there. It was close enough to Trojes to make an everyday commute feasible, only about 30 minutes.

Preparation

I designed the system by calculating the expected amount of water per year by average annual rainfalls. It was calculated that the children should have enough water all year long, provided that they conserve water during the dry season that lasts for 3 months.

What was the building experience like?

It was a challenging week because the weather wasn’t cooperating. Ironically, it rained all day every day during construction. This made it challenging to work with the cement because it was constantly getting wet. Also, it made it dangerous to work on the scaffolding installing the rain gutters and cutting parts of the roof while it was raining. There were lots of people, so we always had enough help. An instructor came from the sustainable farming center, a family run business in central Honduras that teaches groups how to use sustainable farming techniques, including rainwater harvesting and water conservation. He was leading the building and directing the groups. The mosquitoes were very bad at the school; everyone was getting bitten.

What is Pure Water’s plan for future projects like this one?

Part of the appeal of this project was so that our staff and other community members would learn how to build a ferrocement tank and construct the water collection system. We do not have any immediate plans to build for other schools. But in the future, Pure Water will utilize this technology for creating other structures and helping other dry schools.

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Michael and Katie with the completed rainwater harvesting system