10 January 2017

“This is the First Time I Felt Like an Engineer”

By Peter Martin and Kelly Stefanski

Within 6 hours we went from a borderline blizzard to a hot and humid paradise. The first few days were a bit of a blur as we dealt with severe rainstorms and a lot of time spent traveling in vans through the country.  On top of that, there was obvious culture shock happening as we attempted to acclimate to our new surroundings.

One of the first things we all noticed was the lack of Wi-Fi and hot water, it soon came to be the norm and anything greater was a luxury. Power outages were also common as some of us found that out mid-shower. I think we all realized how fortunate we are and how good we have it back home. However, for the first time we are seeing exactly what impacts our technologies have on these communities. It’s been a humbling experience already for the three days that we’ve been here. Not only are we teaching and showing plant operators and interested onlookers what we have learned from our classes at Cornell, they are teaching us far more than we ever imagined.

Some of the things we’ve learned so far in Honduras is that since there aren’t many road regulations, if you want the right of way in oncoming traffic you just have to be the first the flash your headlights. We also found out that there are millions of dollars hidden away in the natural monument, the cave of Taulabe. A man named William Haneman took shelter in the cave after robbing a bank in 1972. He was captured, but the money was never found. On a more serious note, the students that worked on the 1L/s plant were taught the “Honduran way” of cutting and sanding pipes that proved to be much more efficient. We also learned that during groundbreaking ceremonies for new water plants they have a woman break a traditional pot that women use to carry water on their heads.

Hondurans have much more of a sense of community than we seem to have in the US, despite their limited resources, such as the electricity that constantly goes out. They continue on with contagious smiles. It really is something wonderful to see just how happy they are to show us how their water treatment plants are working and how the communities are truly grateful for the clean water that the plants provide. It really is a partnership between the plant operators and the community that has let AguaClara be successful.

The people we have spoken to dream that AguaClara technology in water treatment plants is going to be an answer to their problems and you can see the happiness that spreads throughout the community. Even places that don’t have these plants are hoping to eventually get one. When we first arrived we were shown two different plants that were not AguaClara, this was so we could see what ideas they have and how they compare to our plants. These plants run on electricity, so when the power goes out (which can happen pretty frequently) they can’t provide clean water. These communities have expressed interest in adding an AguaClara plant to their potable water system in order to provide an additional water supply, free from the burdens of electrically run plants.

The 1 L/s plant pre-installed at the Cuatro Comunidades AguaClara Plant location

Plants at the Cuatro Comunidades Plant 

The AguaClara plants we have seen so far have been immaculate, you can tell they are well taken care of and something that they take pride in. In Cuatro Comunidades we were all blown away by the asthetics of the AguaClara plant. It was painted a turquoise color on the outside surrounded by tropical plants and cactus and the inside was inlayed with painted tiles. Not something you’d expect from a water treatment plant! They also said that the plant is used for field trips to show children how water is treated for safe consumption. The other AguaClara plant we visited was the Morocelli Plant. This plant was the 12th generation AguaClara plant, and it’s located on a hilltop overlooking a canyon near Morocelli. The facade of the building was a soft blue color, and the plant itself was in pristine condition. The operators (5 of them, including the water board president), were happy to answer any and all questions that we had pertaining to the operation of the plant and their experience as operators. We conducted several settling tests, and pH tests for coagulation doses, both of which peaked the interest of the operators. They seemed incredibly pleased to have us visit and we’re definitely looking forward to more of these personal experiences with more AguaClara plant operators!

To this point, we’ve toured several AguaClara and non-AguaClara water treatment plants located throughout the country and have witnessed both Monroe’s and our visions come to life. As of today our 1 L/s plant is practically complete, with just one more day left of final touches. It is also the day that many of us can say we feel like actual Engineers for the first time. There were many moments where we couldn’t rely on google to answer a question, so we really had to come together and create solutions based on all of the skills we’ve acquired along the way. It’s powerful to see something that was built in a lab at Cornell come to life in the beautiful country of Honduras.

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