Sunday, January 10, 2010

No Divining Rod Necessary

"This is a road?"

Wedged between two small plots of land and jumping steeply up the hill, it was indeed a road, and I had to get my truck up it. My coworker Asaf stepped out of the truck, engaged the four wheel drive, and we continued on our way. Farther down the road, a beautiful green valley stretched to our left, beginning precariously close to the wheels of our vehicle.

It's amazing to me how green this part of Uganda is, and yet how hard it is to find water springs. The land is green and lush, and yet when we finally find a spring, it trickles out of the ground. We spend days driving around, from one low flow source to the next. And without fail, every source is described as "big" by locals. "How big?" I ask. "Big", the invariable answer. I'm becoming something of a skeptic. Trying to quantify relative differences is difficult - one of the classic cultural disparities between someone like me from "the West" and Africans.

I have been searching for sources for the last few weeks in hope of finding enough water for a new gravity flow project. To secure funding, we need to demonstrate a flow of at least 3 liters/second, or 48 gallons per minute. That's a lot of water, which makes it difficult to find a source strong enough. And it also means I do a lot of driving, each day hoping I'm doing to get lucky.

At each source we perform two tasks. First we measure the flow of the source by timing how long it takes to fill a jerry can (see the photo above). Secondly, we collect a sample of water to test for contaminants. We only consider clean sources for projects because incorporating water filtration into the system reduces the likelihood the system will be maintained in the future. Unfortunately, it also means that we limit the potential number of sources we can use for a new project.

Once we've found a promising source, I will be putting together a project proposal with preliminary engineering. Given the amount of water required, such a project would likely help around 10,000. Motivation enough to keep going out each day in hope of finding the big one.

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