10 December 2014

Jesús de Otoro, AguaClara's 10th Plant

The AguaClara program is proud to announce the operation of the full scale water treatment plant in Jesús de Otoro, Intibucá, Honduras. This plant is the 10th to come on line in Honduras in less than 10 years and provides clean drinking water to more than 4,000 people. This means AguaClara technologies in Central America supply potable water to more than 40,000 individuals!

Construction of the plant began in May and Agua Para el Pueblo has been training local operators from Jesús de Otoro in the theory and practice of water treatment since August. These operators, for their part, have been working hard to not only learn about water treatment, but also to build and install the hydraulic components of the plant. Their hard work is finally paying off as they can now see the clean water they are helping to supply to their families and neighbors.

Over the next two months, Agua Para el Pueblo will transition complete control of the plant to the local water board, JABASCO.  The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (COSUDE) funded the construction of this plant, but the local water board and users of the water system will pay for the sustainable use of this water for years to come. We have been working closely with the members of JABASCO throughout the construction and training process and know they will sustainably provide clean water to Jesús de Otoro. The people of Jesús de Otoro will officially inaugurate the plant in January, 2015.
Agua Para el Pueblo Employees along with the plant operator candidates outside the completed plant in Jesus de Otoro

24 November 2014

Team Spotlight: Ram Pump

The main purpose for the Ram Pump is to provide AguaClara plant bathrooms with clean water. This semester the Ram Pump subteam will be focusing on deciding whether or not the Ram Pump should be a stand alone entity or a part of the plant itself. Ultimately, deciding whether or not to include the Ram Pump as a part of the plant is a cost consideration. The pump could be sold separately to reduce construction costs.

Ram Pumps are not an AguaClara innovation and are sold commercially. Past Ram Pump subteams have tested the AguaClara design for the Ram Pump to commercially bought Pumps and discovered that the AguaClara design performs just as well as the commercially bought product but costs significantly less.
“The cost of the AguaClara Ram Pump design is probably under $100,” Abby Brown ‘17 said.

The Ram Pump design was implemented into the San Nicholas plant during the Honduras trip this past winter break. The pump initially worked great but has since stopped working. The current team is attempting the accurately model the actual plant design in order to work out the kinks in the system.

“the pump itself is doing what it needs to be doing.There’s not enough head loss,” Brown said.

In order to increase the head loss the team would have to raise the system which has proven difficult.

“Overall the problem is we can’t simulate the environment accurately because we’re just in room and can’t raise the bucket as high as it would be in the field,” Kadambari Suri ‘17 explained.

03 November 2014

Team Profile: Stacked Rapid Sand Filter

Stacked Rapid Sand Filters are an AguaClara innovation that are significantly easier to operate and maintain in AguaClara plants. The Enclosed Stacked Rapid Sand Filters are an adaptation of these filters for flow rates of 3 L/s or less. Flow rates such as these are common through the India plants and the eSTaRs subteam will be working closely with AguaClara LLC in India. This Semester’s team consists of Senior Environmental Engineering majors Mary Millard, Sarah Bolander and Savannah Wing, Operations Research Junior Skyler Erickson and Sophomore Environmental Engineer Subhani Katugampala.

The eStaRs subteam was a part of the AguaClara summer internship program.

“The biggest project over the summer was getting the backwash system working,” Millard said.

This semester’s team will be working closely with engineers on the ground in India. “We’re hoping to help solve a lot of the problems going on in Gufu,” Erickson said. “We really want to find the upward turbidity the system can handle and by the end of the semester we’ll have a better understanding of the extremes the system can handle in the field.”

“We’re currently discussing how we could run several filters in parallel,” Bolander said “They’re already doing this in India but we’re looking for something more easy to handle.”

Summing up the semester’s goal nicely Millard noted “The LLC is working with TaTa in India and trying to produce next version eSTaRs on a large scale. We want to use our data in the lab to make sure it’s fine tuned and improved.”

27 October 2014

Chemical Dose Controller (CDC) Team Profile

After fabricating a new design for the Chemical Dose Controller (CDC), this semester’s team consisting of Senior Environmental Engineers Jeanette Liu and Andrea Cashon and Sophomore Chemical Engineer Christine Leu, looks to begin testing this semester.

In an AguaClara plant, the chemical dose controller acts as a semi-automated system that linearly increases the dosage of disinfectant and coagulant with an increase of flow. With this, AguaClara plants can operate at the most efficient chemical dosage levels despite any changes of flow through the plant.

Last semester, CDC fabricated a lighter lever arm, thus making it easier to ship, intended for plants with lower flow rates that do not need coagulant, such as in India. In addition to being light, the head tank must be chlorine resistant due to the AguaClara plants use of Chlorine as a disinfectant. Last semester’s CDC team adjusted a Nalgene water bottle to act as the head tank.

Looking to this semester, CDC anticipates to now test the equipment. One specific concern is that while the body of the Nalgene bottle is chlorine resistant, the cap is not, so additional adjustments and fabrication may be required. One of the current proposed solutions to the corrosion issue is to use a PVC pipe instead of a nalgene bottle and fasten a cap to the bottom of the PVC pipe. Additionally, the CDC team will be looking at testing the LFOM to determine if the size decreases by 10 cm if the linear relationship between the flow into the plant and the dosing still applies. If these test prove the relationship still stands the tank size can be scaled down. The scaled down plant size has the potential to cut construction plants and increase AguaClara plant efficiencies. The overall goal of the semester, however, is to see if all of the small adjustments, such as new eye bolts that are susceptible to corrosion and height adjustments, to the overall system will result in a greater improvement to the plant.

Eventually, the team hopes to make an equipment list and a guide to send out to plants on how to construct the improved CDC system.

15 August 2014

India update and new opportunities

AguaClara water treatment plant on top
 of a water storage tank in the village
of Ronhe, Jharkhand, India

The Cornell AguaClara program continues to grow into a global network with a vision for Safe Water on Tap for Communities Everywhere. 
In early July I visited the village of Ronhe in Jharkhand, India and their AguaClara water treatment plant with low flow stacked rapid sand filters (red/white/green columns in photo below) and chemical dosers. The facility is waiting for chemicals and then it will be fully operational. The system include a solar powered pump, an elevated storage tank with an AguaClara water treatment plant on top of the tank, and piped water to all of the households in the village.
On July 16, Ken Brown, Maysoon Sharif, and I met with Dr. Smita Misra in New Delhi, India. Dr. Misra is a senior economist at the World Bank and is the team leader for a $1 billion Rural Water Supply and Sanitation for low income states project that is underway in India. We presented the technologies we are showcasing in Jharkhand and in Honduras and discussed their applicability for scale up. Our new technologies for providing safe water on tap in villages generated a great deal of interest. We discussed system approaches to improving the performance of rural water supply systems. The World Bank project has $93 million dedicated for education and capacity building and Dr. Misra was enthusiastic about opportunities for collaborating.
Dhaval Mehta (Cornell '14) and
Maysoon Sharif (principal, 
AguaClara LLC) inside the Ronhe
AguaClara water treatment plant.
We met with Tata Water Mission in Mumbai and AguaClara LLC is exploring the possibility that Tata will fabricate our Low Flow Stacked Rapid Sand Filters for use in village water supply schemes.
We visited Somaiya Vidyavihar University and two of their village projects that were funded by the Girivanvasi Trust. We were hosted by Cornell alumnus and Indian industrialist and philanthropist Samir Somaiya ChE '90, MChE '92, MBA '93.  We are exploring opportunities for an ongoing collaboration between the AguaClara program at Cornell and Somaiya Vidyavihar University.
The Indian government has made providing piped water for villages a priority. AguaClara LLC plans to establish an India office in the coming months so that they can focus on the opportunities for scale up in India. AguaClara can provide expertise on how to make village water supply systems both high performing and sustainable. This is an amazing opportunity to improve the quality of life in rural India.
In the coming months I will be working with Ken Brown to assemble an AguaClara Advisory Council (AAC) that will oversee the combined AguaClara program at Cornell and AguaClara LLC. The AAC will extend our network for entry into additional countries and help establish an AguaClara Center at Cornell so that Cornell can expand its role as the global leader in safe drinking water supply.
A few weeks ago I learned that Professor Lion and I have received a National Science Foundation award for EXPERIMENTAL EVALUATION AND MODELING OF HYDRAULIC FLOCCULATION SYSTEMS UNDER CONDITIONS OF TURBULENT FLOW. This award will enable us to continue our research into the fundamental mechanisms of flocculation with the goal of improving the design of hydraulic flocculators. Our proposal is based on our new flocculation model that for the first time makes it possible to predict flocculator performance based on the physics of the process.
I am excited about the amazing opportunities for innovation, learning, and making the world a better place. At Cornell we develop new understandings of the fundamental mechanisms that underlie drinking water treatment. We change student lives with more than 500 students over the past decade having engaged in our innovation system. AguaClara LLC’s expanding role in the world will employ more Cornell graduates as they transfer knowledge generated at Cornell to local partners with the vision of providing safe water on tap for communities everywhere.

29 July 2014

New Cornell Engineers Send-off

This summer, AguaClara LLC hired two fresh Cornell graduates to join the team in Honduras in designing and implementing the technologies being developed on campus. Jon Christensen and Walker Grimshaw flew to Honduras to begin their year-long assignment this past Monday, July 28th. Before they left, I interviewed them individually and asked them a few questions about their thoughts on the journey.

Jon Christensen, M.Eng. 2014

Tell me about yourself.
My name is Jon Christensen and I’m from Minnesota. I just completed a Masters of Engineering degree here at Cornell, and while I was here, I worked on the Turbulent Tube Flocculator team on the AguaClara research group. I’m going down to Honduras for a year and I’m excited to have the chance to keep working with AguaClara.

Why did you want to go to Honduras with AguaClara?
I wanted to go to Honduras because I have a math, physics, and environmental engineering background. In my career, I want to do work that applies those skills and also helps people in providing clean drinking water, so working in Honduras was a perfect way to do that all that once.

What are you doing in Honduras?
In Honduras, I’ll be working with the people of Agua Para el Pueblo (APP), the people building the AguaClara plants. Both Walker and I will be the hydraulic experts assisting them in the construction of treatment plants while we’re down there.

How do you feel about the transition from lab work on campus to field work in Honduras?
I went to Honduras for two weeks last January and saw some of the large treatment plants there. I got to see the San Nicolás treatment plant while it was being built. I've been exposed to the plants and the conditions there, so I think it will be an easy transition even though the types of work I will be doing will be very different between researching the theory behind these treatment technologies versus actually implementing the technologies and building the plants.

What are you most excited about?
I think I’m most excited about experiencing a new culture. The weather is going to be much better than it is in Ithaca, and I think the food will be fun to experience. We experienced [on the January trip] that the people are very welcoming. I’m excited about that too.

Are you nervous about anything?
The thing I am most nervous about is communicating with people. My Spanish is pretty basic at the moment with a lot to learn, so it will be challenging to communicate with people right off the bat.

Will you be taking Spanish lessons?
Yes, when I get there, I’ll take at least a week of an intensive Spanish course, possibly longer. That’ll definitely help me work in Spanish.


Walker Grimshaw, B.S. 2014
Who are you?
I am Walker Grimshaw. I just graduated from Cornell with a bachelor’s degree in biological engineering in May.

Why are you interested in working in Honduras?
Initially, I was just planning on going to graduate school, but when I went on the annual January trip to Honduras with 20-25 other Cornell students, I saw what they had to offer and spoke to Monroe in the spring about the possibility of working down there. It just seemed to be the sort of opportunity that doesn't present itself very often, something that I can take advantage of as a twenty-something year old and that I can not only learn a lot from but hopefully also contribute a lot to.

What will you be doing there?
[Jon] and I are both essentially replacing Drew’s presence on the ground. Drew is the current engineer that works down in Honduras who was a student here at Cornell and did the AguaClara program. We will be doing maintenance and updates of the plants that have already been in operation for a few years as well as finding new projects and monitoring construction and helping out with a very specific hydraulic design of new projects.
Myself specifically, I will be working very closely with the foam filtration team at Cornell on a pilot project in Honduras for foam filtration, which is our newest technology for small communities less than 1000 people.

What are you most excited about?
With regards to living abroad, I have done a few fairly short trips to other countries and I've loved them. I’m really excited to go down and have a very different sort of life. It’s also what I’m most scared or anxious about. Things will be very different then they have been especially having lived in the “Cornell bubble” for the last 3 years and going to not even just a city but a city where I sort of speak the language. It will be very different, so I’m excited but apprehensive.

How is your Spanish?

I am confident conversationally, but that is about it. Since I graduated a month and a half ago, I've been trying to practice my Spanish a fair amount and get it back to where it was when I was taking Spanish courses. Pretty early on in the process we’ll have the opportunity to take some intensive Spanish courses. Then it will just be a matter of getting out of the house every so often and speak with people I’m working with and people outside of work in social settings. That will really improve my Spanish more than anything.


Walker and Jon, we wish you the best of luck for your time in Honduras! 

14 July 2014

[AguaClara Summer Internship 2014] Design Team

This week, we feature the Design Team with Meghan Furton '16 and Serena Takada '17.

Serena '17 (left), and Meghan '16 (right)

The Design Team utilizes Mathcad and LabVIEW to digitize the team's designs for the various operating units of the AguaClara water treatment process. From day to day, they perfect their codes for these designs that require precision so that they can be shared with the engineers that implement the designs in Honduras, India, and elsewhere. Projects that members of the design team work on can vary immensely.

Watch this interview to get an idea of what Meghan and Serena are up to this summer!

02 July 2014

[AguaClara Summer Internship 2014] Subteam Spotlight: Foam Filtration

This week, we are featuring the foam filtration subteam that is composed of four students: Skyler Ericson '16, Abby Brown '17, Ethan Keller '15, and Ji Young Kim '16.

The team is working on foam filtration which is a team focused on constructing and perfecting a water filtration unit targeted at smaller more isolated communities, places that may not be practical to build full scale water treatment plants. The design consists of many layers of porous plastic foam layered inside of a large cylindrical tank that can treat up to 1 liter of water per second. The design also incorporates a way to clean the foam which involves compressing the foam to expel the caught particulates. The main focus of the summer team is perfecting this cleaning system.

Check out the interview to get a sense of their team and get a glimpse of some of their research!

25 June 2014

[AguaClara Summer Internship 2014] Introduction to AguaClara

With the summer session already underway, the basement of Hollister Hall is already abuzz with activity as 15 summer interns and their advisers work on 4 different projects. Under the direction of Monroe Weber-Shirk, these interns, ranging from undergraduates, graduate students, and even recent alumni, are volunteering 40 hours per week to work on these projects through June and July. This intensive summer program aims to bridge the gap between school years effectively without any loss of productivity and to set the stage for a successful new school year. With a full work week to devote to this project team, these students can discover and answer questions that may require intensive research and focus.


The teams that are working this summer are the Design team, Low Flow Stacked Rapid Sand Filter team, Foam Filter team, and the Tube Flocculation team. From now until the end of the summer session on August 1st, this blog will feature the subteams that are working together this summer and anything else happening within the project team.

Expectations are high this year for AguaClara in general, with two new plans expected to be put into operation as well as four Cornell engineers eager to join the engineers of AguaClara LLC working in Honduras and India. Expectations with the research groups back on campus are just as high with the projects on the tails of a productive 2013-2014 school year, and the students are eager to see how their research will translate to real applications in sustainable water treatment, sanitation, and health.

 There are real consequences to the research done on campus with real communities being affected. This video gives a glimpse of the problems we face in terms of clean water, and the next few blog posts will expound some of the solutions that the project team is developing this summer.

If you want to stay up to date with our upcoming achievements, check out our website and various social media accounts:
Official Website - http://aguaclara.cornell.edu/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/CUAguaClara
Twitter - https://twitter.com/CUAguaClara
Youtube - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXq9V81yyUOTQYokfp5wXfw

10 April 2014

Honduras Health Centers: Atima

Health Center of Atima
Atima seemed like a very progressive city. The treatment plant was built in 2012 and had an effluent water turbidity of about 0.2 NTU. That’s a pretty big step considering just over a year ago, they didn’t have a water treatment system.

Carmen Mendoza who has worked at the Atima Health center for two months spoke to us about changes in health since the treatment plant was built. They’re trying a new “decentralized” health model that aims to prevent unhealthy practices rather than simply treating the symptoms. The model also targets children under age 5, pregnant women and women who have recently given birth. I think it’s great that they’re trying to educate people about the importance of clean water. (Before going to Honduras, I hadn’t even realized what an issue this was!) They’re also building a new maternity ward that should be finished in March and they will hire new doctors for this.

The health center at Atima also treats water for surrounding villages, which is where most of the diarrhea cases come from for a variety of reasons, among them being the fact that the people in the villages haven’t followed health advice and to them clear water is clean water. It must be pretty frustrating to understand how important it is to have clean water, and to tell others about it, only to have them ignore you.

Within the first six months of 2012, there were 250 cases of diarrhea (so a projected yearly number of 500 cases), and in 2013 there were a total of 405 cases. Hopefully it’s not just coincidence that there was a decrease of almost 20% in the cases of diarrhea, but we would need more data to see if this trend continues.

There are probably a number of reasons that there wasn’t a greater change in the number of diarrhea cases. Even if people are getting clean water, they could be practicing unhygienic habits which can also make them ill. Also turbid water is not the only reason people get diarrhea. But even a small change is better than no change!

To be honest, I was really impressed with Atima. The treatment plant was obviously well run, and they are taking great strides towards improving health education. It’s crazy to think that just over a year ago, they didn’t even have a treatment plant and now they probably have some of the cleanest water in Honduras.

- Felice Chan

Honduras Health Centers: San Nicolás

We went to the health center in San Nicolás on a cloudy Wednesday morning. It was toward the edge of town, off of a cross street from the main paved road. The health center here is a CESAMO, a health center run by doctors, as opposed to a CESAR, which is run by nurses. When we got there, we found that the two doctors who run the health center were on vacation. In their place was Guillermo Flores, a capable nurse who was heading the center for the time being (and looking very busy doing it). He had little time to talk, but in the moments he had, he gave us a fluid narrative of water-related health in San Nicolás.

He emphasized how interconnected the problem is, with both social and practical factors. For reasons of poverty, people are not able to afford bottled water, so they will use untreated tap water, and sometimes river water. Water from rivers is especially dangerous due to contamination resulting from poor sanitation. Further, people store rain water during the dry season, which provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes that carry dengue and malaria.

Sr. Flores was quick to point out that, while water is clearly a problem, health problems like diarrhea have a broad array of sources. He cited, for example, that parasitic worms can be transmitted from the soil into the body through bare feet. Likewise, food can also be a route for infection, and it is difficult to differentiate.

In all, he was excited about the treatment plant, and felt that it would be a benefit to the community. He cited many cases of Hepatitis A due to water contamination, as well as less visible effects. For example, mothers preparing formula for their babies will sometimes use dirty water, causing them to fall ill. Hearing about the many issues related to the lack of clean water, we are delighted that the AguaClara treatment plant was recently inaugurated in San Nicolás.

The social aspect of health seems to be taking on greater importance in the approach of Honduran health workers. It seemed that all of the health centers we visited had active outreach and education programs, with San Nicolás being no exception. As we were leaving, Sr. Flores asked us if the people of the municipality had welcomed us well. We were a little surprised by this question, but he explained that the health center puts on a local television program to educate the community about various health issues. Most recently, they had aired a program on welcoming foreigners. If the incredible welcome we received in San Nicolás had anything to do with the television program, then we have good reason to be exceptionally hopeful about the effect of the program on the future of health in San Nicolás.

- William Pennock

Honduras Health Centers: Támara and Marcala

Támara was the first town that we visited on the trip that had an AguaClara plant. It was inaugurated in June 2008 and serves a population of 3500. After a delicious lunch at Doña Reina’s, which included a juice made with AguaClara water, a young boy from the community led several of us to the health center. We were warned that the health center might be closed – some days it would close as early as 10 a.m. on weekdays. It was after 1 p.m. on a Thursday when we visited.

As anticipated, the health center was closed when we got there. Roger, one of our drivers, opened the gate and walked in to see if anyone was still there and available. Two women were still doing paperwork three hours after the health center had closed for that day, but one of the nurses was willing to talk to us for half an hour.

The nurse praised the AguaClara plant and the plant operators, saying that they had the best water in the area and that diarrhea cases had definitely decreased since the construction of the AguaClara plant. Medical students from the National University of Honduras visit Támara to study the connection between clean water and illness and give seminars about the water treatment process and the importance of sanitation. These medical students report that they see people getting sick everywhere, but there is a significantly lower level of illness in Támara.

Támara—Poster relating clean water to public health
One the reasons that young children still get sick – among other prevalent health problems – is that parents don’t clean their children’s pacifiers and bottles, so the issue is not the water but cleanliness practices. There is also a spike in diarrhea cases during Holy Week (Easter) because people tend to travel more and drink the unclean water in other places.

Two days later, we visited Marcala, which is known for its coffee. The AguaClara plant serves 2500 to 2800 households and was inaugurated in July 2008. Although the health center was closed because it was a Saturday, we were able to talk to Wilmer, one of the senior plant operators.

The water used to be so dirty that people wouldn’t be able to brush their teeth with it, and he estimated that over 90% of the population cannot afford to buy bottled water. Since the town began using the AguaClara plant, cases of diarrhea and water-borne diseases have decreased. Both the health center and Agua y Desarrollo Comunitario (ADEC), a NGO that gives technical expertise in water and sanitation, monitor the drinking water quality and chlorine levels.

- Theresa Chu

Honduras Health Centers: Jesús de Otoro

Health Center of Jesús de Otoro

Jesús de Otoro was a uniquely interesting city as it had three different water treatment systems: JAPOE, Santa Cruz, and Rurales. JAPOE has a FIME treatment system, and in the near future, Santa Cruz will have an AguaClara plant, and Rurales will have a FIME plant. The water systems weren’t entirely divided up by area – sometimes people could choose which one they had, and some had service from more than one water system. Overall, further development of quality water systems and community awareness is still needed, but the efforts being made were very impressive and promising.

The president of JAPOE said that the health center reported that cases of diarrhea had gone down by 4% this year. Generally, people had been drinking primarily bottled water but had begun to drink from the tap more. The health center also reported that 60% of the population is connected to the water system. They found that the widespread system improves community involvement and awareness of health issues, but some people were more willing to pay for cable than higher quality water. The general understanding of water contamination and water-related health appears to be very limited. In an effort to mitigate this, as part of a national initiative, the health office started a new program at the beginning of last year to improve education and prevention. They chose to concentrate on pregnant women, women who have just given birth, and children under 5 years of age. They have set an impressive example for two other nearby municipalities.

We were able to perform a few interviews in the area. At a small store, a 6-year resident of Jesús de Otoro reported having both JAPOE and Santa Cruz service, but preferred the treated JAPOE water to the untreated Santa Cruz water. The consumer found the price for JAPOE service fair but that for Santa Cruz unfair. The consumer reported that they knew of people without JAPOE who use Santa Cruz for all their needs, some boil the water but some do not. There are a notable number of cases of diarrhea and vomiting, possibly in part due to the contamination of the system by wastewater. At another house, we were told there were no health problems associated with the water, but that there is too much chlorine in the water, which residents could taste.

Honduras Health Centers

Just because the technology exists, doesn't mean the benefits do. Our new series of blogs, Honduras Health Centers, describes our asides from water treatment plants to health centers. We wanted to assess how the quality of health had changed, if at all, since the construction of AguaClara treatment plants in the communities. Although time was limited, we managed to speak to people about health in a few places: Jesús de Otoro, Támara, Marcala, Atima, and San Nicolás. With the help of doctors and nurses, local community members, and our translators, we were able to gather stories, data, and plenty of optimism for the future of health in Honduras.

09 April 2014

Foam Filtration as a Versatile Water Treatment System

This past January members of the Foam Filtration team were part of the student engineering in context trip to Honduras. While there, they were able to implement the first foam filtration system in the field. Despite difficulties getting the system set up for its first presentation (involving inclement weather and putting together the heavy equipment while on the side of a cliff) the team was ultimately able to get the foam filter set up. At first the filter was not working, but after increasing the chemical coagulant dosage to 8 times what they used in lab, the system returned water at 1.87 NTUs, well below the World Health Organization standard of 3 NTUs, where NTU is a measure of turbidity. The video below shows their reaction as the filter started to work.

The idea behind the Foam Filtration team’s research is to run contaminated water through pieces of foam designed with specific densities of pores (porosity) and a chemical coagulant that will cause pathogenic material in the water to solidify into clumps. These clumps of matter will get caught in the pores while the clean, low turbidity water is allowed to pass through the foam. Originally, the team had considered developing the foam filtration system as an add-on at the end of the plant designed to supplement the Sand Filters currently used in the AguaClara Treatment process. However, the team realized that this may not capitalize on the full potential of foam filtration and now the team is focused on designing the system to work as a smaller, isolated system that can be used as a stand alone water treatment method. This type of system could be implemented as a point of use water treatment method for individual homes or small communities, or as an emergency backup in case of crises such as a natural disaster or if something were to happen to a region’s larger treatment facility.

The goal of the team this semester has been to refine the foam filtration system to be an all inclusive system that is both efficient and easy to set up, while also being practical and cost efficient. The vision for this system involves creating a system of packaging using a 55 gallon drum to hold all of the parts needed for the foam filter so that it can be shipped fairly easily. The parts would be packaged in such a way that putting the components of the filter together would be very simple and versatile, and the drum would act as the main body of the filter. This design would allow for quick and consistent access to clean water, as long as there is a source of water.

The trip to Honduras illuminated some aspects of the foam filtration system that were slightly flawed or needed to be rethought. The team is currently working on redesigning some of these features, such as the compression unit the filter uses. The team quickly realized when they were assembling the filter in the field that the compression unit, which could hold a car, is way over designed and made the filter unnecessarily heavy and difficult to put together. They also realized that the chemical coagulant is highly more effective with the idealized mixture of tap water and clay used in lab than with the actual water sources used in Honduras, which have greater levels of biological matter and contaminants. They also found their current method of removing water off the top of the filter was unrealistic and some of the parts were rusted which made the unit difficult to assemble. Along with the maintenance realizations, the team also got to experience first hand what their research could do in the field, and what it’s actually like at the plants using the technology they’ve helped develop. The team members are using all of this to help fuel them this semester as they continue their research to improve the technology so it can be optimally utilized wherever it may be needed in the future.

25 March 2014

A Trip to Remember

I really hate icebreakers. I can never find a good answer for “what kind of cereal would you be and why?” My usual answer: “Uh, I’d probably be Cheerios because they’re delicious.” Clever, Paroma. Luckily, after spring semester, all groups pose the same question: “What did you do over break?” Last year my answer involved a couch, Netflix, and a metric ton of Nutella. This year I got to say something a little more interesting: “Hi, I’m Paroma and I went to Honduras for winter break.”

Besides the jealous looks from my peers (why yes I did get a tan, thanks for noticing), Honduras also gave me so much to talk about upon returning. My sentences started with what sounded like ohmygoshwesaweverythingandwaterissoimportantandraftingandwoah and ended with, “and now all I want to do is go back.” My caffeine and nostalgia fueled monologues have mostly resulted in the other people slowly backing away as I tried to communicate just how much this trip influenced my life. This post is an attempt to mold that borderline insane speech into a comprehensible piece about why everyone should go on this trip.

When we first landed back on American soil, I resisted turning my phone back on. I know, I know, how can someone of my generation resist checking their email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all at once when they have been deprived of it for two whole weeks. Well, I did resist. I did not want to see what had been happening on campus or back home because I was still trying to process what had happened in Honduras. Did I really get to climb Mayan ruins? Did I really zip line across Honduran hills and see the beauty of the country from the top of a tree? Did I really eat my weight in baleadas?  

The answer to all of that and more is a resounding yes. Beyond being an opportunity to tour water treatment plants, this trip was packed with moments of adventure and beauty that can only be found abroad. One such moment for me occurred on a raft in the middle of the Cangrejal River. I had never been rafting before and the prospect of it terrified me. When the option to either jump in a boat and ride down the river or take a hike in a mosquito ridden forest appeared, I strapped on a helmet and forced myself to row. After the first fifteen minutes in the boat and some quick safety training, I felt pretty confident about the activity. The guides did not seem too concerned and the water was slow moving. But then we hit our first rapid. Somehow our boat buckled and Diana, our guide, and I were all thrown from the raft. I know how to swim (passed the Cornell swim test, woo!), but I still started to panic and forgot all the training I had just received. Annie and Caitlin were luckily still in the boat and were able to pull me in once we reached a quieter part of the river. Everyone was a little shaken, so we pulled over to a bank and caught our breaths. As our breathing slowed down and I could hear past the panic in my head, the jungle sounds surrounding us slowly filtered in. Slowly, we all broke out in nervous, and then unabated laughter. Pure adrenaline pushed us back on the river to finish the run and do another. A few more people fell into the water, but everyone made it through the day safely. That night at dinner I stuffed myself with more baleadas and told everyone who would listen an increasingly epic version of our rafting mishap.

Our group after rafting.

I still have not stopped telling that story and I don’t think I ever will. It was the most daring thing I’ve ever done. The feeling of accomplishment at the end of that day propelled me to seek out more adventurous activities back on campus, like applying for a year long study abroad program and taking a Spanish class.

Besides giving me a new sense of adventure, Honduras has become an immense source of inspiration. On weeks where I have two prelims, a presentation, and a problem set due, I sometimes want to put AguaClara on the back burner. After exploring the communities that APP works with and playing with kids who sometimes suffer from medical problems resulting from turbid water, I just can not allow myself to do that. Monroe always mentions how connected AguaClara is to international communities, but it does not always feel that way when I am waiting for Mathcad to load in a lab in Ithaca. Actually seeing our plants and talking to operators and the community has made our connection so much clearer to me. We are an integral part of this effort to bring clean water to the people of Honduras. The trip made me realize something Monroe has been saying all along: our work matters.

A few of the kids from a village we visited in Honduras.

Confucius once said, “wherever you go, go with all your heart.” I think we did exactly that in Honduras. Between the incessant eating, picture taking, and treatment plant exploring, our group launched ourselves into the fabric of the country to experience as much as we could in our limited time. This post was just my personal experience, but I think Honduras has inspired all of us to further AguaClara’s work and know that it influences people beyond this campus. So, if you are thinking about whether to go to Honduras or not, stop thinking. Just go. Adventure is out there; you just have to sign up to find it.

19 March 2014

First Ram Pump Implemented in Honduras

AguaClara plants use some of the filtered water they produce in the chemical stock tanks and bathrooms of the plant. Since the plants rely on gravity, clean water comes out of the plant at a lower elevation than the entrance level of the plant. This means that the plant operators must physically carry the filtered water up multiple flights of stairs to the main level of the plant.
The goal of the Ram Pump team is to lessen the strain on the operator by creating a pump that brings water back up to the plant following the AguaClara philosophy of sustainability by using no electricity, being easy to use and operate, and having a simple, efficient design.

On the winter break trip to Honduras, the first Ram Pump was implemented in an AguaClara plant. The team met with the plant operators to go through the different parts, explain how it worked and then build the ram pump on site. They then built a concrete tank for the ram pump to fit in, after it was poured they had to wait until the third day to run it. After getting through some initial clogging due to debris, the ram pump worked outstandingly. Once the water started running through it, the ram pump turned out a flow rate that was even higher than the team had last measured in the lab.

Unfortunately, there were some issues with the implementation. The water flow rate into the pump was higher than the team had used in lab to design it, and there is a change in elevation in the underground pipe system of the plant that the team had not known about. Since they were unable to account for the elevation change the pump is currently not working, so engineers and plant operators at the plant are working to determine the best method of fixing the pipes.

Ram Pump
The Ram Pump team is continuing their work in the lab. Last semester, the team made great strides in improving the pump design as well as their lab. They successfully developed a head loss system using pipes designed to simulate the difference in elevation the water must be carried up through, they were able to increase the flow rate of the water through the system and made improvements on the recycling system as well. At the end of last semester the team bought a $500 commercial pump to see how the ram pump would compare, and theirs outperformed the commercial one!

This semester the team is continuing work to make the pump more efficient and reliable, increase the delivery flow rate, and scale the pump design for use in more plants of different sizes to determine if we should consider making the ram pump a more permanent feature of the AguaClara plant design.

16 March 2014

Trip to Honduras: Class Projects

Field trips usually mean being part of a class, right? So the Honduras trip was part of a class. Instead of being assigned homework, students formed small groups to work on projects focusing on various aspects of the context of engineering in Honduras. These projects are about more than just getting a grade and have allowed us to really explore the water treatment system and infrastructure beyond technology. Political, economic, or medical, there are many other factors to deal with in water treatment. We are of course primarily engineers, so some of our projects do cover the technology we saw. And then there’s the whole story of the trip itself. Here’s a glimpse at what we’ve been working on.

Project: Centralized vs. Decentralized Systems

Team Members: Alex, Annie, Paroma, and Toun

A major component in providing clean drinking water includes the governing system that will organize the distribution of water and tariffs. This group explored whether decentralization would make that process more efficient and less subjective to the tides of politics. While in Honduras, they asked plant operators and town officials about the decentralization process and its effectiveness or expected benefits.
One current issue in centralized systems is that when a new political party comes into power, members of the leaving political party will lose their jobs. This shift in leadership means that a new plant operator will need to be hired and trained. Politicians in power are also influential enough to force plant operators to reconnect the water to those who had not paid the water tariff.

The motivation behind decentralization is that if consumers pay their tariffs and the plants do not receive any subsidies from the municipalities, changes in political leadership are less likely affect the day-to-day running of the plants. It was found that decentralization is a complex process and very few villages or towns have actually completed the process, so it was difficult to compare decentralized and centralized systems. Of those that decentralized, only one community was completely self-sufficient and running without any government intervention or support. 

Project: Water Tariffs

Team Members: Chris, Jon, Kristie, Walker

The water tariff group is focusing on tariff schemes and rates, and comparing those to user satisfaction with service. In each town or city, they tried to collect information on plant type, plant administration, and tariff history. So in Honduras, this meant collecting tariff information from the administrators and operators at each plant, and then measuring satisfaction in interviews with users.

As they still need to collect the interview responses and then compare those with their tariff data, they have not yet come to any conclusions. An inherent challenge in drawing any conclusions from this project is that there are very few data points and the measure of satisfaction will be anecdotal, so nothing will be proved quantitatively. In addition, the comparative amounts of water supply and demand as well as the political history of each individual community play a large part in determining the current tariff scheme.

One surprising thing that came out of asking administrators about tariffs was the fact that significant portions of their users are behind on their payments or not paying at all. This issue occurred in several cities, with political graft often identified as a major source of the problem.

Project: Health and Drinking Water Quality

Team Members: Felice, Marissa, Theresa, Will

The health project team is interested in measuring how the quality of health has changed in each community since the AguaClara treatment plants have been built. Though their initial interest lay mainly in hearing anecdotal stories about how health has improved for local community members, it soon expanded to collecting data on health from every community. They were able to have many conversations with local community members and health center workers in several of the visited towns.

It was apparent in every conversation that illness was common due to the unclean water. People who lived in communities with AguaClara treatment plants, however, were able to tell us how cases of diarrhea and other water-borne diseases have decreased. Some health centers were also able to provide statistics on diarrhea cases and other health trends, though it seemed that data collection throughout the communities was overall rather disorganized. As some health centers would treat several communities, of which only one would have an AguaClara plant, the data would also be skewed and include cases from the communities with dirty water.

The health improvements seen in Honduras have given more motivation to providing clean water. The team is currently working on recommendations for expanding on the data and information collected for future years.

At a health center in Atima

Project: Foam Filter

Team Members: Kadambari, Melissa, Paul (acknowledgements to Skyler, Jeff, Kristin at Cornell)

The foam filter team, an AguaClara sub-team throughout the year, was a major component in the technology exchange of this year’s trip to Honduras. The foam filter is intended to be a possible solution for very small communities where a full-scale AguaClara water treatment plant would not be the appropriate technology. This sub-team has been performing research for the past few years, and last fall’s team focused on specifications to make it operational in Honduras.

The foam filter team’s final debut came midway through the trip, when the team presented the system to Honduran officials atop a windy mountain. Though there were many challenges - from finding the correct barrel to fit the foam cylinders during construction to barely cleaning the water on-site - the team’s foam cylinders eventually became a working filter that transformed filthy water to a clear effluent. The foam filter cleaned water that was over 100 NTU (a measure of “haziness”) to 1.87 NTU (Honduran standards for drinking water are 5 NTU). Their success in Honduras has translated to new improvements in design at Cornell, which they are currently working on.
Excitement over the working foam filter

Project: Plant Comparison

Team Members: Songlin

Though we all believe strongly in our research on the technologies produced by the AguaClara program, there are other treatment schemes used in small communities in Honduras. The focus of this project is to compare these other technologies to AguaClara's and find specific pros and cons of each. Like all our work, the goal is to find if there is another possible way to reduce cost of treatment while maintaining high water quality. While in Honduras, Songlin collected information about different treatment plants that the team visited throughout the trip, such as construction cost and the size of the population served. The project also includes outside research about other water treatment plants and technologies.

Project: Wastewater Treatment Systems

Team Members: Caitlin, Cristina, Luke, Maithili, Vicki, and Walker

The wastewater treatment team, also a subteam of AguaClara, was interested in Honduras’ wastewater treatment systems in terms of the technology and treatment processes used, sewer connections, tariffs, and where wastewater treatment stands in the community’s priorities for progress. Not an issue many people want to discuss, they also found out more about community awareness of the importance of wastewater treatment. The trip to Honduras helped clarify the goal of the team’s research in anaerobic wastewater treatment back at Cornell and illuminated further areas of research for future modification.

In Honduras, they visited wastewater treatment systems of various communities and asked about the current status of the system as well as future progress. They learned that although developing accessible drinking water treatment plants tops the list of priorities, wastewater seems to be slowly gaining importance too. They saw many different treatment processes used, including oxidation lagoons, UASB units, activated sludge treatment plants, and Imhoff tanks. Some of the plant operators they interviewed were unable to give complete information about the plant, such as if it was functioning fully. Their learning experience did not go without adventure. In one community, their visit included climbing on top of the Imhoff tank, which was an open concrete structure full of sewage 6 feet deep. 

The Wastewater Treatment Team and Drew (back, left) on top of the Imhoff tank 

Project: Video

Team Members: Apoorv, Ariel, and Saugat

In line with AguaClara’s vision of open source technology and rich documentation, the video project team left almost no aspect of the trip untouched - from car rides to water treatment plants to conversations with local community members. There are three parts to their project: the trip itself, how an AguaClara water treatment plant works, and a documentary of how water quality affects life in Honduras.

Armed with a video camera and probing questions, the team captured the story of our time in Honduras through interviews, narrating the processes of the San Nicolas plant under construction, and recording soccer games on the fly. Many of the interviews involved talking to people living in the communities and asking how they live or lived without daily access to clean water. They also recorded some of the less serious details of the trip that might have been lost in retelling otherwise, like AguaClara members dancing. With only one team member fluent in Spanish, they sometimes found it difficult for everyone to understand each other when talking, but they were able to record it all. The team is still hard at work editing and whittling down all the footage into a succinct chronicle of our adventures abroad.

12 March 2014

Ithaca is Jorges

Out of all the people that we, the students, have met and interacted with through the entire duration of our trip, no one expressed as much love and joviality as Jorge Dueñas, one of the van drivers for the 2014 Honduras trip. Despite his barebones grasp of English, Jorge managed to showcase his outgoing personality through many means other than spoken language.
Jorge helping with the construction of the foam filtration unit

In this video interview, we asked a few of the students, Kadamburi Suri ’17, Melissa Shinbein GRAD, and Paroma Chakravarty ’16 to describe some of their experiences with the loveable and expressive driver Jorge, who hails from the city of Tela on the northern coast of Honduras. They recall the experience of Jorge regaling them the story of how he met the love of his life while he was in the process of joining the priesthood.

The beauty of this experience was this linguistic cooperation that they shared between each other in order to break the egregious language barrier. Melissa, with a little experience with Spanish, was able to pick out the simple Spanish words and cognates. Beyond that, they relied on body language and hand motions for ideas like love, affection, or anxiety, that proved to be surprisingly universally understood.

In the end, we were all glad to revel in the fact that we were able to establish this line of communication, albeit through tremendous effort from both parties. I think about all the life stories of everyone we have interacted with on this trip and realize how easily I could miss them if I did not try to listen to them tell them. Everyone has a story to tell, about love, family, home life, or even about us visitors. I can only hope to have enriched the stories of those I have met on this trip.