June 29, 2014
I arrived in San Salvador during the afternoon of May 7th. El Salvador was hot and humid, no surprises there. Myself and the rest of my team found our arranged ride, and settled down for the hour and a half trip away from the capitol into a rural portion of the state of La Libertad. Upon arrival in San Jose Villanueva, the town where we would be staying, we were greeted by our local contact, Graciela Martinez. Graciela works for Epilogos, a nonprofit working in the area, and she helped us with securing housing and transportation for the duration of our stay in El Salvador. We settled in for the night, readying for our meeting with the local government the following morning.
The next morning, we walked to the mayor’s office down the street, to discuss our hopes for the project. I explained the overall goals of our project, part physical as well as part community research. The mayor’s office was very receptive to our plans for a water project in the community of La Estancia, and offered help both coordinating and overseeing our interactions within the community.
Next up was to visit the actual site of our water project. Here we intended to build a water storage tank for use during the dry season, as well as construct a piping and filtration system to deliver water from a nearby creek. Prior to assessing the site itself, we first needed to attend a community meeting at the church. At the meeting, we discussed the water situation in La Estancia, and talked over various methods of action. Community leaders were very receptive to our ideas about water storage and filtration, and were also quite interested in my intentions to conduct research on water filtration and usage by the community. Multiple community members volunteered to help with construction; I had an excellent feeling about community involvement coming out of the meeting.
The very next day, we began to survey the site for the water storage tank. At the same time, I also began to get to know the community. Initial construction of the water storage tank is going well thus far, we expect to have it completed by the end of next week. At the same time as construction commences, I am also attempting to gain a better understanding of community water usage trends. The better I understand water usage within the community, the better I can begin to tackle the problem of clean water access within La Estancia.
I took water samples of the creek water in La Estancia in order to have them tested for risk factors such as bacteria levels, turbidity, heavy metals and more. One of the biggest challenges facing La Estancia is the lack of cultural awareness surrounding water and water usage. The most obvious pollutants in the water of La Estancia include human waste and soap residue. Many rural areas in El Salvador exhibit the classic phenomena of using the water just upstream of where you live, and then dumping the waste just downstream of your residence. Clearly, this becomes an issue when you have neighbors, either upstream or downstream. This cultural complacency has no immediate answer. In rural areas such as La Estancia, infrastructure suitable to remedy this problem is far from being developed. No piping exists to deliver clean water, and no piping exists to remove wastewater.
It may seem incredibly outdated to dump wastewater directly into your source of water, but the residents have few viable alternatives. During our first week on site, we also were caught in a rainstorm, which causes the creek to swell and grow dramatically. During rain events, all manner of trash and waste are swept into the creek, which drains the entire valley. The combination of human and natural contaminants will make the treatment of this water a tricky situation.
The treatment of La Estancia’s water supply will undoubtedly be tied directly to water usage within the community. As I continue to gather information on the community, I will be better able to paint a more complete picture of the human and water interaction currently ongoing in the community.