UTSA engineering students travel to rural Peru to build water system

Digging

Adam Bazar (left) and Jessica George were among four students from the UTSA chapter of Engineers Without Borders who traveled to central Peru for 12 days in January to build a comprehensive water-delivery system to bring water to town residents as part of a multi-year community development project. (Photo by Eleazar Hernandez)

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(Jan. 28, 2013) – This month, UTSA engineering students Adam Bazar, Steven Byers, Jessica George and Diego Gonzalez and faculty mentor John Joseph spent 12 days in central Peru installing the components necessary to help bring water to the earthquake-stricken town Viña Vieja.

This is the third trip that UTSA's chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-UTSA) has made to Peru as part of a five-year agreement with the town of Viña Vieja in cooperation with local non-governmental organization Texas Partners of Americas. The group's goal is to facilitate community health and rebuilding efforts through expanded access to water resources and earthquake-resistant structural designs. This initial project involves designing and building a comprehensive water delivery system so that the 500 residents of Viña Vieja can own and operate a reliable water system capable of supporting their daily needs for the first time.

Viña Vieja lies roughly 10 miles from the coast of central Peru, but experiences an arid climate because of the dry air descending from the Andes. In 2007, the region was devastated by consecutive earthquakes, which left many of the residents of Viña Vieja without housing, while complicating the existing problem of obtaining potable water.

Each trip to Peru is a race against time, as the company that owns much of the farmland in this agricultural community has threatened to begin adding fertilizer to the water supply that feeds into the canal systems used by residents for bathing, cooking and drinking.

"In the past, other groups unaffiliated with EWB visited Viña Vieja to do what we're doing, but never finished what they set out to do," said Gonzalez. "So, it took some time to prove to the local people that we are committed to this project and to gain their trust. Now that they trust us, they are getting involved and helping it become sustainable, so when we leave, they'll be able to operate and maintain it on their own."

The group will make their next trip to Peru in August to finish building and testing the new water delivery system as well as to teach the local residents to maintain it themselves.

The EWB students are responsible for raising the funds to make each trip to Viña Vieja, and each trip costs roughly $15,000, which covers the cost of travel and materials.

"It was a challenge to prepare for this trip while also taking a full course load of intense engineering classes, studying and working," said UTSA civil engineering senior Jessica George. "But, meeting the people in Viña Vieja and seeing how what we're doing is actually making a difference in that community made it all worth it."

"I'm impressed that these students took out time from their holiday break to endure harsh living conditions so that such a basic need of the people of Vina Vieja might be met, and how diligently and steadily they worked as unexpected obstacles arose," said UTSA civil and environmental engineering lecturer John Joseph.

The UTSA chapter of Engineers Without Borders includes students from multiple disciplines, professional mentors John Joseph and AnnMarie Spexet, and faculty adviser Heather Shipley. The students are involved in design, fundraising and outreach for all projects. Donors to the group include Clearly Zimmermann Engineers, GKW-Inc., Gabriele and Mark Niederauer, UTSA Family Association and Parent Council, UTSA College of Engineering, UTSA College of Engineering Office of the Dean and the UTSA Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

To learn more, visit the UTSA Engineers Without Borders website.