by: Joaquin Viquez, Program Innovation Director
Supporting Local Leaders
Achieving a properly designed and built water infrastructure in a rural community is usually the easy part. Achieving long-term sustainability of that system, which guarantees long-lasting impact, is the harder part. Our approach for this is to support local leadership structures, where communities organize water committees that lead the construction, and especially the day-to-day operation of their own water systems.
During operation, water committees must follow weekly, monthly, and semi-annual maintenance tasks such as filter cleaning, water disinfection, meter reading and distribution line cleaning, among others. Although our program is heavily focused on developing the required capacities at the water community level, we’ve realized that water committees do require additional technical support over time. For example, remembering the precise steps of some tasks, especially those that do not happen on a regular basis.
Furthermore, we find it valuable to be able to monitor the operation of these water systems. It helps us understand what the most common issues are, the success of system maintenance led by committees, and how well the system is functioning overall. This in turn can serve as necessary feedback to improve our approach to water and energy access in communities.
Piloting New Technology: 60Hertz
To address these needs, 1) guiding tools for water committees to operate and maintain their water system, and 2) ability to collect data on the uptime of the water systems, we are excited to share that we recently launched a pilot project with 60 Hertz Energy. This Alaska (US)-based company, offers a remote monitoring app that can be tailored to our specific needs. We can easily upload detailed instructions, step by step with images of the most important maintenance tasks for a water system.
These tasks can be built around individual sites, so each water committee is displayed with their specific assets and specific required maintenance forms for their water systems. Additionally, the app is functional with no internet. Once the user, while connected to the internet, has logged in and all the forms and support information has loaded, the user can easily use the App with no internet access. They can easily fill the required forms and data, and upload images. Once connected to the internet later, it will automatically sync in the background.
In May, a small Green Empowerment team traveled to the Río Cayapas in Ecuador. This vast waterway is home to many Afro-Ecuadorian and Chachi Indigenous communities, who depend on the river for transportation, livelihoods, and water supply. Today, logging, mining, and cattle ranching in the area threaten the health and livelihoods of the population. And over the last two decades, many Río Cayapas communities have received inadequate NGO or government interventions to implement potable water systems; most of which quickly failed due to poor design, a lack of administrative/technical training, and minimal follow-up by project implementers. So, together with local partner ALTROPICO, we design systems with parts that are available in-country and easy to transport by canoe (as these communities are only accessible by river) and heavily invest in training locals to build, manage and maintain the systems.
Observing success with their neighbors has convinced communities to invest their own money, time, and labor in water system construction. From our first install in 2018, our work has spread to a total of 12 communities in this region, and counting. We selected this region for the 60 hertz pilot project because ALTROPICO has done phenomenal work on developing local capacity in this region. In addition the communities have wide access to smartphones, and have the possibility to connect to the internet several times a week.
Launching 60Hertz with Local Technicians
To deploy the 60 Hertz technology, we delivered a full day training for the Río Cayapas water committees. The training started with a review of the components of a typical water system, and its typical maintenance tasks required. Then we connected the logic of these tasks with how the 60 Hertz app works, hoping it would be intuitive. We guided committee members through downloading the app and the login steps, then visited each form to showcase how the app works. In the training we were impressed by the technician’s existing knowledge of their own local systems and their evident interest in using the app as a tool.
Our hope is that as natural turnover occurs, the 60 Hertz app will be a valuable tool for committees to train new members. In addition they will be able to use the app to log and track regular maintenance. In the next several months more data of individual water systems will flow in, helping local communities, our partners and us better understand system maintenance and functionality. This data will serve us and our partners as we continue to improve our work.