18 April 2016

Sustainability Workshop in Honduras

AguaClara and Agua Para el Pueblo (APP), our implementation partner in Honduras, are working to strengthen our network of treatment plants in Honduras. This past week, from April 14-16, we hosted a workshop for the water board leaders and plant operators from all of the communities with AguaClara plants. The workshop had several objectives: review and standardize operation and maintenance procedures, motivate capital improvements to outdated plants, strengthen water quality monitoring and communication, invigorate the water board association "AsociaciĆ³n Comunitaria de AguaClara en Honduras" (ACACH), and promote collaboration with public health entities. APP organized and financed the workshop, with contributions from Mexichem plastics suppliers and Solquin chemical suppliers. Click here to see more pictures from the workshop.

As an iterative design program, AguaClara is continually improving its water treatment technologies, and every AguaClara plant includes new innovations. Consequently, every cohort of plant operators has an experience particular to their plant. We want to empower plant operators from different communities to share these experiences with each other and with APP staff to collectively improve and standardize our operation and maintenance procedures, ensuring all plants constructed since 2006 are operating optimally. This workshop was a good first step, which already generated a novel filter backwash technique, and we hope to use social media to maintain communication between operators and water boards.

Another continuous effort of APP and water board leaders is water quality monitoring, in which we hope to coordinate with the ministry of health. Systematic monitoring is mandated by Honduran law but is often poorly enforced and shared between the service provider, government, and the public. Successful monitoring also helps operators improve their practices, builds confidence in the water's safety, justifies the water tariff, assists APP technicians identify problems, and is crucial to Cornell researchers for technology improvement. AguaClara currently supports two data reporting and publication platforms: a text message system administered by Wash 4 All, and a pilot smartphone application "POST" being developed by students at Cornell. These systems allow plant operators to remotely report operation data that can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection. Crucial to ensuring water quality, we also want to improve the frequency of bacteriological analyses by making available CBT kits which can estimate E. coli MPN in the field, and asking support from public health technicians to collect and transport samples to local laboratories.

To better coordinate and sustain these activities, we are strengthening the AguaClara water board association, "AsociaciĆ³n Comunitaria de AguaClara en Honduras" (ACACH). As we build more plants in Honduras, the need for a coordinating body which can sustain continuous technical support for the plants becomes more and more critical. During the workshop, water board members reviewed the statutes, objectives, and plans of the association, and re-elected its executive board from among the local water board leaders. The association will negotiate reduced group rates for chemicals used in the plants, one of their principal expenses, and will meet again in May and June to continue defining their objectives and expanding their capacity.

To keep up the positive energy from the workshop, APP's Antonio Elvir will make follow-up technical visits to all of the plants in the coming month. He will complete pending maintenance, identify and review budgets for capital improvements that can be made to outdated plants, collect water samples for analysis, and build water board administrative capacity. This will be a key step to improving communication between all players in the AguaClara program, from APP and local water boards to the ministry of health and community members. Sustaining our water treatment plants is a continuous challenge, and we are inspired by the enthusiasm we see in our plant operators and water board leaders!