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Assessing biogas energy and water supply in rural Uganda

Assessing biogas energy and water supply in rural Uganda

September 25, 2014

Authored by Erin Cummings, CH2M HILL engineer and Engineers Without Borders volunteer

I traveled to Buseesa, Uganda with the Greater Cincinnati Professional Chapter of Engineers Without Borders for the first time in June 2013. We had been connected with a rural boarding school in need of a biogas system for cooking. During that first assessment trip, we also learned about the serious need for improved water supply and quality in the community. The existing sources are primarily made up of unimproved sources, such as natural springs, streams, and marshes. There are also a few improved sources in the area including a couple shallow wells and one failed protected spring. During the dry seasons, sources dry up and community members must walk further and further distances to the next available source. All of the sources tested positive for E. Coli. Community members boil their water to drink.

An entire village accompanies the travel team to their marshy water source.

An entire village accompanies the travel team to their marshy water source.

With the help of the CH2M HILL Foundation grant to cover travel expenses and water quality testing costs, a team of four volunteers headed off to Buseesa in June for the second assessment trip for two separate projects: a biogas project for a boarding school and a water supply project for the surrounding community. The biogas team interviewed three contractors for the construction of the biogas system and assessed the availability of hard-to-find construction materials. The water team assessed the existing village water sources in addition to larger water systems in nearby villages and towns to gain an understanding of the technology used locally. The team also met with the district representative from the Ministry of Water and Environment, the community leaders, and the stakeholders for both projects.

Meeting with key stakeholders and community members to ensure successful projects.

Meeting with key stakeholders and community members to ensure successful projects.

Based on our findings and the data we collected, we were able to move into the alternatives analysis and design phases for both projects. We plan to implement both projects in early 2015.

Second assessment trip travel team (from left to right: Jim Moyer/Coldwater Consulting, Erin Cummings/CH2M HILL, Ed Kohinke/Kleingers Group, Connor Smith/Black & Veatch)

Second assessment trip travel team (from left to right: Jim Moyer/Coldwater Consulting, Erin Cummings/CH2M HILL, Ed Kohinke/Kleingers Group, Connor Smith/Black & Veatch)

Being involved in this program gives me a purpose that can’t be fulfilled by the work I do for my day job. I’ll never forget the unified chant from one community in response to learning about our work, the way the an entire community walked with us to their marshy water source, the meals shared with our partners and friends, and my first experience hosting community and stakeholder meetings as the leader of the water project. More than ever, I’m proud to be a water engineer with the knowledge, skills and resources to help empower those who need it most, and I’m proud to work for CH2M HILL, one of the longest-standing corporate supporters of Engineers Without Borders.

Erin Cummings is a water engineer in the CH2M HILL Cincinnati office. After graduating with a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Louisville in 2010, she completed a four-month environmental engineering internship with a small firm in Detmold, Germany and then came to work at CH2M HILL. Erin works primarily in collections systems modeling and drinking water security.

Since 2003, CH2M HILL has been supporting Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB USA), a non-profit organization helping build sustainable infrastructure and improve the lives of people in developing communities around the world, while training future engineers to be socially responsible and culturally aware. The CH2M HILL Foundation is proud to support employees who work on EWB projects and mentor student chapters through its Employee Engagement Travel Grants program. In the five years since launching the EWB grant program, the Foundation has awarded 110 grants totaling nearly US$450,000 supporting projects in 25 countries. View this short video to learn more about this robust partnership.

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September 2014

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