Water & Well Laid Plans . . .

Today is Blog Action Day 2010, and the topic happens to be WATER . . . since this is a topic that features largely in most eMi project trips, we thought we’d contribute.  For those here just for Blog Action Day, the project profile for the project that Kevin is describing can be found on the Engineering Ministries International website . . . or check out previous posts for details of the trip.

Burundi is blessed to be situated beside the second largest lake in the world (by volume). Much of the lake edge along the Burundi border is clean, sandy beach which on any other continent would be filled with resorts. However, between the site we were developing to be a college and the sandy beach was a 700 meter ecologically sensitive buffer that squatters were using to grow banana trees. Even being this close to the lake, we were scratching our heads on how to obtain water to fully develop a rural site as a college for 1000 students.

Being engineers, we were looking for the least expensive, least complicated source of water that required the least amount of treatment. We started with the local community spring as the first choice. The community was getting clean, safe water from a spring in the mountains about 3 km away. Our first option was to run a pipe from there, but because this ran through community land and we would be taking water away from other paying users, this was a political nightmare.

Option B, to drill a well on site, would require a little more on-going maintenance and electricity. This option would likely work well because the site was only 15m above the lake level and there was a good chance of a water-filled sand seam not too far down. However, after searching high and low through government and NGO contacts, we discovered that there are no commercial water well drilling rigs in the country. Some deep wells (30m) had been hand dug in previous years, and any equipment that did exist had been destroyed or stripped for parts many years previously. Some groups were bringing in equipment to drill small wells for hand pumps, but for the volume of water we needed, nothing was available. Drilling rigs in Rwanda or Tanzania could be mobilized but at a high cost and we’d on a long waiting list. This option was going to take a lot of coordination and time. It would also be risky in that the well might be dry or that the drill rig might hit large rocks and be unable to continue before finding water.

We finally came back to the option of pumping directly from the lake. We knew this would be the most expensive method, but it might be our only option too. While searching around for a direct route to the lake, we discovered an old pumphouse that had at one time been used to pump water from the lake to our site. The locals said that before the 1960s, some foreigners had lived on the land where we were now building and had used this as a water source. The fact that option had once been used was very encouraging to us. It meant that it was possible, viable, and that someone else had done this before. Even though this would be the most expensive option (pumping, storage and more treatment), there was no way we would ever run out of water. From a cost perspective, it is still the most expensive, but from a political perspective it is the most secure source of water.

While we were contemplating the challenges and cost efficiencies, we were told by government officials not to worry so much about the water. In our world, lack of water or electricity pretty much kills a project but in their world, other factors might trump this. The president of the country had pretty much guaranteed that because he believed in this project so much, he would guarantee we get electricity and water. He would personally ensure that he would do whatever it took to get us what we needed to make it happen. Wow! In spite of all our well-intentioned engineered plans and efficiency calculations, God can use powerful people to just make it work. God can crumple up our well-laid out designs, and do his own thing. It’s difficult to do but sometimes we just need to get out of the way and watch God do whatever miracle he is planning on doing.


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