AguaClara to be honored with Intel Environment award

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Blaine Friedlander

The AguaClara water treatment and technology development program has received its most prestigious international accolade yet for applying technology to the benefit of humanity.

Cornell and the Honduran nonprofit Agua Para el Pueblo, founding members of the AguaClara network, will be honored as Intel Environment Tech Award laureates during The Tech Awards annual gala, Oct. 20 in Santa Clara, Calif. The Tech Awards are a program of the San Jose-based Tech Museum and honor innovators around the world who are "applying technology to benefit humanity."

AguaClara at Cornell, directed by senior lecturer Monroe Weber-Shirk, is a civil and environmental engineering team that uses the concept "research, invent, design, empower" to provide communities with electricity-free, gravity-powered drinking water treatment plants. AguaClara plants now serve 25,000 people in Honduras who would otherwise have limited access to safe drinking water.

The team has created a free open-source automated Web service to distribute customized plant designs tailored to the size and needs of communities. At the same time, AguaClara emphasizes community involvement and scalability for their plants; the Cornell team doesn't build plants, but instead designs them and relies on partner organizations to work with local communities to construct them using local labor and materials, organizers say.

The collaboration between AguaClara at Cornell and their partner, Agua Para el Pueblo, has generated yearly advances in eco-friendly and cost-efficient drinking water technologies and a new model for sustainable, community-owned and operated drinking water treatment facilities.

It is all too often the case, says Weber-Shirk, that poorly engineered "high tech" water treatment plants operating far from their normal supply chains and maintenance technicians are abandoned after a component failure or shut down because of unaffordable operating costs. Four years of field results have shown that AguaClara plants avoid this problem. AguaClara plants have exceptional reliability, low operating costs and high-quality water. Community members are willing to pay more for safe drinking water, and community water boards are thus able to cover plant operation and invest in their water supply infrastructure.

"The Tech Award is a well-deserved honor for the hundreds of dedicated students, AguaClara engineers, and the staff and leadership of Agua Para el Pueblo who have all worked together to prove that simple is beautiful, that safe drinking water at the municipal scale is attainable and sustainable, and that Cornell students will seize an opportunity to make the world a better place," Weber-Shirk said. "We will celebrate for a day and then return to our goal of further improving the AguaClara technologies. We will continue to provide the most economical, lowest carbon footprint and most reliable water treatment technologies, and we will develop new technologies to meet the highest drinking water quality standards."


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