Project Ricardo: Clean Water Access for Arcabuco

Funded by: Anonymous Donors Country: Colombia Date Range: 2017-2019 Project Lead: NDIGD Notre Dame Collaborators: NDIGD

In 2017, NDIGD began the process of bringing clean water to Arcabuco, Colombia, thanks to the support of a group of anonymous donors. Despite a growing population, water resources in Arcabuco are not under stress. However, community members have long struggled to access clean and treated water and have experienced multiple instances of contamination. Additionally, the region’s wastewater treatment and management infrastructure has historically been limited.

Project Ricardo is named for a shared friend of the group of donors, who had volunteered in Arcabuco and brought solar energy systems to the region in the past. Ricardo had hoped to address the area’s water challenges, but unexpectedly passed away before his plans could be implemented.  

In 2017, Monsignor Luis Mesa, who oversees the Messengers of Peace (MOP), a local Catholic mission, revisited the issue of clean water access in Arcabuco with the group of donors, who decided to address the challenge in their friend’s memory. Needing an organization with the capacity to research the area’s needs and implement solutions, the donors brought the project to NDIGD, which has worked to bring clean water to Burkina Faso and Ghana in the past.

Phase One: Evaluating Arcabuco's Needs (Fall Break 2017)

NDIGD sent two Impact Evaluation Division team members to Arcabuco, Juan Carlos Guzman and Danice Guzman, along with five undergraduate students and one graduate student from various Notre Dame colleges. The group was kindly hosted by the MOP, who were able to connect the group with local residents, government officials, and technical staff responsible for operating and maintaining the current water systems.

Throughout the week, the NDIGD team met with these various groups and compiled an on-site assessment report. The students learned to scan for E. coli contamination, honed their quantitative analysis skills, and observed the water catchment and hygiene practices of local residents. The students also conducted focus groups with residents in and around Arcabuco, as well as key informant interviews with the local government, particularly the local water board, in order to collect information on precipitation levels, typical water systems in the area, and future plans for infrastructure development.

The NDIGD team found that although most residents in and around Arcabuco receive piped water from five aqueducts in the region, only one aqueduct has a treatment facility able to provide potable water. Because of this, the team discovered that many residents have to travel to a natural spring for drinking water, while other residents, especially those in rural areas without access to transportation to the spring, resort to boiling and drinking untreated aqueduct or creek water. The team also found that many rural community members lacked education on proper water handling and storage, and hypothesized residents may have been contaminating their own water through dirty storage tanks and water bottles.

In 2018, NDIGD plans to return to Arcabuco with students to implement solutions for the community. In the post-trip report, the team proposed a number of potential solutions, including:

  • Improving sewage management systems, potentially by using microbial-earthworm ecofilters (MEEs), which would be able to recycle used water.
  • Developing education campaigns that would teach the importance of water conservation.
  • Extending water transport systems to rural areas.

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