By Ammon During the past six months working in a rural farming community in southern Ecuador I worked with many projects and working closely with many families. In the first three months I looked to see what projects that could really make a big difference in the community. Looking for what problems caused the biggest trouble and in what ways I could apply my own skills to work with the people here. Many of the rural communities where I was working consistently struggled with water shortages. The government has fairly reliable systems for distributing water but even when systems work perfectly stores of water can fall very low during the dry season. Many families pay for an extra service that is a couple dollars a month for the firefighters to deliver water by truck to overcome the water shortages.
The main project that I worked on in this community was building small organic gardens with the families and teaching how to maintain them. One of the obvious parts of maintaining a garden is watering it. Many people where hesitant to seed and maintain their home gardens because they are worried that they will not have enough water for other household tasks such as washing dishes, and clothes, and even drinking water. Because transporting more water is already difficult one solution is to find new ways to reuse water.
A solution we found and worked with was building basic water filtration systems. The purpose of the system was to make water from washing clothes safe to use in small home gardens. The main pollutant from washing clothes is soap and detergent, for this I designed a basic filter using Sand and Charcoal. The sand filters out larger particles and dirt but to remove the Chemical detergent we used the Charcoal. Charcoal has a porous structure that pulls chemicals from the water and traps them.
With this system we could make the water safe to use on small plants such as lettuce, cucumber, and radish as well as all of the other plants. Because we were working on very small budgets we did not have access to specialized testing equipment so I started a small that would only be watered with water from the Sand/Coal filtration system. After two months the plants had grown very well without any sign of chemical burning (yellow spots on the leaves and stems) which is what would happen if the detergent was being soaked up by the plants. After this we started implementing the filters in the homes of the families I worked with.
The filter is built using very common and cheap materials that families commonly have at home. Because of this we could build the system for less than $3 USD. We began with a regular 20 liter (5 Gallon) bucket and cut a small hole at the bottom to collect filtered water later. Then there is a layer of stones for better flow rate, a layer of sand, a layer of cloth, then the layer of small ground charcoal compacted into the bucket, another cloth layer to separate the layers and one more layer of sand. At the top would be a layer of plastic or cloth to distribute the water across the whole area of the filter.
Each of these layers maximizes the filtration and keeps the materials from flowing out the bottom. We then placed the Bucket Filter on top of a set up of blocks or wood so water could be collected below. To use the filter families would collect water from washing clothes and in the morning and the afternoon fill the filter to the top with water. With the amount of water from the filters the families could easily support their home gardens for the day. This system simply and cheaply works to solve one of the biggest problems these families struggle with.
It can be built very easily but also easily be easily improved, changed, and scaled to fit any situation in places with water shortages. And ultimately if people have the power and knowledge to overcome these problems then we can all improve o ur quality of life, health, and environment.