Closed Program: Cotani, Bolivia

Cotani is a small town of approximately 800 people in the Department of Cochabamba in the Altiplano of Bolivia. We have worked closely with the community members of Cotani 2009 – 2015 to improve sanitation conditions and overall health in the community by implementing sustainable engineering projects.  We partnered with the Oklahoma East Professional Engineers Without Borders Chapter in Tulsa as well as the Bolivian aid organization Engineers In Action.

Previous Projects

When we began working in the community, all biological needs were performed outdoors, producing farmland contamination and spreading intestinal infections throughout the community. In order to mitigate this health concern, our first project involved the construction of ecolatrines in 2009 through a partnership with the local Tulsa EWB professional chapter (Oklahoma East).

After meeting with the community members upon successful completion of the ecolatrine project, our chapter learned that they could further improve the health of the community by providing warm water for hand-washing and showering. Despite the fact that spring water is piped to each home via a community wide water system washing/bathing simply did not happen because the cold water (approximately 37°F) made washing very unpleasant in the cold climate of the altiplano. Providing warm water for the community became a priority in order to make washing and bathing a more pleasant (and therefore more likely) experience.

In 2011, TU students (in collaboration with faculty and professional engineers) designed and installed a heat exchanger in the Cotani library capable of heating spring water from a bone-chilling 37°F to more than 100°F in ambient air temperatures that do not exceed 62°F.  The heat exchanger at the heart of the design uses black 2” PVC pipe with recycled 2-liter plastic bottles that create a greenhouse effect. This simple, yet effective solution costs about $200 per unit, is constructed entirely from locally available materials, and uses no electricity. After another successful shower system installation at the Girl Scout Troop House in Tulsa, our chapter provided heavily subsidized materials and free instruction to 15 homeowners to construct a solar heated shower and sink system in their own homes in May 2012. We also held educational programs with the school children of Cotani on the importance of hand-washing and the many applications of solar energy.

All of our work is done with the understanding that it is the community members who must take ownership of the project in order to ensure sustainability. Because all of the project materials were cheap and readily available and each family had individual ownership of their own system, nearly 13 of 15 the showers were up and running within one year. Post implementation interviews indicate that the community members are using the systems and are making plans to duplicate/modify the designs. We have even found evidence of community members applying the technologies that we have shown them in new ways to help improve their quality of life on Cotani.

During the implementation of the solar heated shower and sink project in 2011-2012, our chapter noticed serious faults in the current water system in Cotani-Alto, which was installed in the 1980s by the community. Extreme water pressures (as high as 150 psig) were observed at night-time causing damage to equipment and a perpetual leaking problem in the pipes. The system is also unable to supply any water to some families during the day at peak usage times. This lack of pressure creates a serious contamination risk because runoff from farmland can leech into leaky pipelines. There is also a section of Cotani that has no access to spring water and must haul it in buckets from neighboring communities.

In August 2013, our chapter sent a travel team to investigate the problem and map the current piping system. During a community meeting, the users and water board for the Cotani-Alto water system expressed a strong interest in working with us to solve their distribution and pressure fluctuation problems. Although the Cotani-Alto system has enough supply from the spring sources, the system is insufficient to supply the now 101 households (it was originally designed for sixty) drawing water from the undersized pipelines. With the help of community members our travel team successfully mapped the entire Cotani-Alto water-system. Using this data and the water-system modeling software EPAnet, we have designed several solutions to the current water distribution problems facing Cotani. Although these systems vary in complexity, all of them would involve a complete overhaul of the current water system currently in place and would systems would cost around $50,000.

Unfortunately, the political climate in Cotani changed, and people from the United States of America were no longer welcome.  We submitted paperwork to complete the project in 2015.

Documentation and Papers

Solar Water Heaters for Showers and Sinks: An EWB-USA Project – Presented at the 2012 Midwest Section Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education by Weston Kightlinger

Comments are closed.