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Assessing water source potential in Nicaragua

Assessing water source potential in Nicaragua

May 30, 2014

Authored by Olver Obagi, Water for People volunteer and CH2M HILL project manager

I was introduced to Water For People by my coworker, Edgar Ortusiastigue, who talked me into taking his place as he had a family engagement coinciding with the volunteer trip. It did not take me very long to say “yes” for several reasons: (1) serve communities in need (2) sense of adventure (3) much needed time out off the office (4) PTO bank was about to be maxed out, and (5) environmental and social economic conditions similar to my country of origin (Colombia).

My trip lasted six days, from April 21 to 26, 2014. I arrived at the international airport in Managua, Nicaragua on Monday, April 21, where I was cordially welcomed by Carlos Lopez (W4P local staff) and Benjamin Finnegan (a volunteer like me, but from another company CDM Smith). From there, we drove approximately three hours to Jinotega (town where we would be staying and where the country’s W4P headquarters is located). The drive was very interesting as we had to deal with narrow roads, no shoulders, pedestrians walking along the road, farm animals crossing the road, etc. Upon our arrival in Jinotega, which is a municipality of the Department of Jinotega, we were taken to a humble hotel. From there, we went to meet the other members of the Nicaraguan W4P team at their local office. The afternoon was spent participating in meetings with other agencies such as Engineers Without Borders, who are also helping the Dept. of Jinotega by providing better sanitation and water resources to the locals.

The team (from left to right): Carlos Carazo (City of San Rafael), Gustavo Joan (WFP Nicaragua), Carlos Luna (City of San Rafael), Ben Finnegan (Volunteer from CDM Smith-Chicago Office), Vice Mayor of City of San Rafael, Carlos Lopez (WFP Nicaragua), and Olver Obagi (volunteer from CH2M HILL – California Office)

The team (from left to right): Carlos Carazo (City of San Rafael), Gustavo Joan (WFP Nicaragua), Carlos Luna (City of San Rafael), Ben Finnegan (Volunteer from CDM Smith-Chicago Office), Vice Mayor of City of San Rafael, Carlos Lopez (WFP Nicaragua), and Olver Obagi (volunteer from CH2M HILL – California Office)

The objective of our support was to aide gathering field information in the Dept. of Jinotega. This field work lasted four days; from Tuesday to Friday. Jinotega was selected because of its severe poverty as well as for its lack of water supply and sanitation to the local residents. Field work consisted in gathering GPS locations and flow data of natural springs and creeks to assess the water potential in providing continuous water supply to a local community of about 15 to 20 homes (see photo 1 for typical home). Water conveyance is accomplished by means of laying 2-inch flexible polyethylene pipe from the water source to each home via gravity.

Our field work entailed long hikes to get to the natural springs and other water sources. Local residents played a crucial part in finding the water sources as they knew the area and sometimes they had to make the trail with machetes due to the high vegetation density.

The crew taking a flow measurement of a small creek.

The crew taking a flow measurement of a small creek.

The determination of the flows was accomplished by either two conventional methods: diverting all flow through a piece of PVC pipe and timing the time taken to fill a 20 liter pail or measuring the geometry of the creek (wide, length, and depth) to determine volume and timing how long it would take a floating device to float the length of the creek under observation. With time and volume, the flow is calculated.

Unfortunately, my volunteer work ended on Friday, April 25 for this endeavor which continues to make progress. Before heading back to the airport, Ben (CDM Smith), Mauricio (W4P Nicaragua) and I stopped at a local restaurant to have a typical Nicaraguan breakfast.

Things that I learned from this trip and that a volunteer should know before embarking on this adventure:

  1. Speaking the native language is paramount, the more fluent the better, especially when communicating with the locals.
  2. This is not a resort place. Long hours were spent on narrow trails with high vegetation, high temperatures and humidity, lots of ticks and bugs, and no restaurants nearby so it was necessary to carry our own water and food. I personally packed power gels, power bars and beef jerky; enough to share with the rest of the crew. You will gain positive points with the locals by sharing.
  3. Must be in very good shape to endure the long hikes on those steep hills, some of them were more than 45 degrees in slope.
  4. Better have good hiking shoes that have been worn previously preferably and comfortable clothes.

This was a very rewarding experience for me. It was nice to share some of my background knowledge with the W4P Nicaragua staff. They were all very warm and receptive and treated me very nice. The people in town and in the villages may be poor, may not have water or electricity, but have the biggest smiles and the kindest hearts I have ever seen and they always made me feel at home.

Myself with one of the locals who served as a guide.

Myself with one of the locals who served as a guide.

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Olver Obagi has more than 12 years of experience with CH2M HILL as a civil/ environmental engineer. Since January 2012, Olver has been serving as the project manager for the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) water and wastewater utility privatization project at the Fort Irwin Army Base in California. He is also in charge of all on-site CH2M HILL personnel at Fort Irwin.

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