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Engineers Without Borders – Successfully Commissioning a Safe and Reliable Drinking Water System for the Panamanian Community of Las Delicias

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

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After four years of assessment, planning, design, and implementation, the Panamanian community of Las Delicias now has a safe and reliable drinking water system thanks to the efforts of those involved in Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Northeastern University (NEU) Chapter, including Mike Sanders (Kleinfelder Boston office) who serves as a program mentor for the chapter; the community of Las Delicias; as well as the many Kleinfelder volunteers from our Boston office who have contributed to the project in one way or another. 


KICKING OFF A FOUR YEAR PROJECT

The project began in late 2014 when the community of Las Delicias, which is made up of approximately 250 residents occupying 75 homes, recognized that many of the health issues within their community were caused by the poor quality of their drinking water. The community’s Water Board reached out to EWB-USA, requesting help to design and implement a new water distribution system.  The EWB-NEU Chapter accepted the challenge, kicking of a project that would require five trips to Panama, $50,000 in funding (95% provided by EWB-NEU, which came from personal and corporate donors [click HERE to donate], and 5% provided by the Las Delicias community), and thousands of hours (both abroad and locally in Boston) devoted to developing and constructing a new water system.


DEVELOPING A SAFE AND RELIABLE DRINKING WATER SYSTEM

Developing the new water distribution system presented several challenges that had to be overcome. The existing system, which was comprised of a concrete water tank connected to a single above-ground PVC pipe running throughout the community, was barely functional with hundreds of breaks and leaks throughout the pipeline system.  In addition, the pressure constantly varied from high to low along the length of the pipe due to the hill/valley topography and high friction due to undersized pipes.  

Since the existing water tank had reliable water sources and was in good condition, the EWB-NEU team kept the tank in place; the rest of the system however, was completely replaced with a distribution system that works by placing four pressure regulating tanks at the right elevations to serve each home with adequate pressure.  The team worked closely with the community to construct the system, all the while teaching them how the system worked so they could properly manage and care for it in the future.


PROJECT SUCCESS – THE COMMISSIONING TRIP

The project reached its culmination in December when the team traveled to Panama to commission the new water distribution system. To prepare the water system for operation, the pipes were cleaned using high velocity flushing and shock chlorination – an eight day process during which the community could not access water from the old system or the new system. The cleaning process went according to plan and was completed one day ahead of schedule. Throttling valves at each house’s service connection were checked to ensure every house received an equal amount flow – a key goal established at the start of the project. Break pressure tanks and float valves were also tested to ensure proper function. A map was then created for the community, identifying the water mains that new houses should be connected to.  Finally, the water system was turned on and proved successful in delivering clean drinking water throughout the community.  Residents were overjoyed by how well the system worked and were eager to learn about where their water was coming from during a Water Board meeting that was held to educate the community about the system.


LOOKING FORWARD

Now that the community has a safe and reliable drinking water distribution system in place, the EWB-NEU and water board of Las Delicias partnership is setting new goals which involve getting more reliable water supply into the community by developing a transmission main from the nearby Paguacito Stream. This new water supply will fill the tank year-round, including during the dry season.

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