Since 2005, AguaClara has built 14 gravity-powered, electricity-free surface water treatment plants in Honduras, with a 15th under construction at Zamorano University in Tegucigalpa. These plants bring safe tap water to approximately 65,000 people in the Central American nation.
Now the Cornell-based program, run almost exclusively by engineering students, is expanding its reach in Latin America.
Construction on the 16th AguaClara facility began Aug. 1 for a plant in La Concordia, Nicaragua. The ground-breaking was the result of two years of work by the Honduran nonprofit Agua Para el Pueblo, the U.S. nonprofit Water For People, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
“I’ve been dreaming of the day when AguaClara technologies would begin to spread globally,” said Monroe Weber-Shirk, founder and director of AguaClara, and a senior lecturer in the College of Engineering. “The need for resilient, climate-friendly water treatment technologies is mind-boggling, with perhaps 3 billion people who don’t have access to reliable and safe water on tap.”
Weber-Shirk admitted that the expansion beyond Honduras has been “slower than I anticipated. We’ve learned that it requires years of developing relationships and building consensus.”
In 2015, Weber-Shirk was invited to give a presentation to a Central American water and sanitation congress in Managua, Nicaragua. In 2016 Agua Para el Pueblo hosted a tour of AguaClara plants for Nicaraguan water sector professionals, and Weber-Shirk returned to Managua last month to present to Nicaragua’s association of environmental engineers.
He also traveled to the city of Jinotega to meet with Water For People and Agua Para el Pueblo and to the proposed site for the plant in La Concordia, a city of 3,000 people that currently draws its water from a nearby stream.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation is financing the technology transfer and the construction of La Concordia’s AguaClara plant. Water For People is financing improvements to the water transmission line from the source to the plant.
Civil engineers from Agua Para el Pueblo of Honduras designed the facility and will supervise plant construction and train their Nicaraguan counterparts on plant design, construction and operation. The hope, according to Weber-Shirk, is that more AguaClara plants will be built in Nicaragua in the near future.
The Nicaraguan nongovernmental organization Agua Para La Vida (“Water For Life”) and Water for People will assign engineers to the project to receive training. AguaClara engineers Rose Linehan ’17 and Ethan Keller ’15 – both working for Agua Para el Pueblo – will supervise the construction of the water treatment systems.
AguaClara, LLC is in the process of establishing a New York State 501(c)(3) nonprofit, called AguaClara Reach, that will build a consortium of organizations to spread AguaClara technologies. AguaClara Reach will provide capacity building for new implementation partners, design services, certification and technical support.
“AguaClara Reach will ensure that the Cornell AguaClara technologies can spread,” Weber-Shirk said, “and ensure that the AguaClara program at Cornell can continue to focus on innovative engineering, fundamental research and inventing better water treatment technologies.”