Treating water in Haiti


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Trad climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 3, 2013 - 09:01pm PT
Hi! I'm working on building an orphanage in Haiti. Was there last weekend and spent a few days in meetings before getting caught up in a riot on the way back to the airport - they almost flipped our truck over while guys in the turret of a UN tank filmed us.

Anyway, what we are working on right now is cleaning the water. We have drilled a well, but there is coliform bacteria and all sorts of stuff we don't want in the water (brought samples back and had them tested).

Here's a starting point...

anyone else have experience with this sort of thing?

We've got an acreage out of town with a well on it &#40;$3600&#41; and...
We've got an acreage out of town with a well on it ($3600) and another $50,000 raised which should build the security wall, a large home to house 24 kids and a couple other buildings. Building started last month.
Credit: tooth
Right now the orphanage sucks, they use a tarp for a mattress in a ren...
Right now the orphanage sucks, they use a tarp for a mattress in a rented building.
Credit: tooth
The well pumps at 6gpm by hand, 20 with the electric pump. Everything ...
The well pumps at 6gpm by hand, 20 with the electric pump. Everything is going solar so the kids don't need sponsor $$, and they will be taught to farm/build/fix cars etc. so they can grow up and be useful.
Credit: tooth
John M

Feb 3, 2013 - 09:07pm PT
We had city water at the orphanage I helped build in Mexico. It was intermittent but safe to drink. Some of the most rewarding work that I have done.

Where the past and future meet
Feb 4, 2013 - 04:46am PT
Hey there,

Ok, a few things. First, you should try to establish why the groundwater is contaminated. Are there latrines nearby, cattle etc? If at all possible establish a perimeter to protect the water source. Possibly the aquifer is being contaminated farther up the catchment which may be hard to do.

As far as treatment, most likely your best bet for a sustainable long term solution is a bio-sand filter of some sort. These filters are relatively cheap and simple to set up but do require some amount of knowledge to keep them functioning properly. The important part to remember is that the biological sludge layer is what is actually taking out the viruses and bacteria NOT just the physical filtration of the water through the sand. This is the key when training people in maintenance of the system. Lots of information online about these filters. You can start with:

For short term, the way to go is remove any sediment and then chorine.

Feel free to send me a message if you have any specific questions as I work in the WASH sector. Also, perhaps there are some NGOs in Haiti that could help you with this? Do you have any money ? Let me know and I might be able to put in you touch with some people who could help.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Feb 4, 2013 - 05:11am PT
The good news is that you didn't detect any protozoa (amoebas, giardia, crytosporidium) or bacteria like cholera or typhoid (I presume those were tested for?). That means chlorine will work. For pure drinking water, maybe an expedition size filtering system? Long term some other means for large quantities.

For contamination, I would walk the surface carefully and look for both human and animal feces. As noted, if the ground water is contaminated, then you have a bigger problem. If it's surface, a perimeter can be established with high walls around the well. They manage to protect most wells in Bangladesh now from the flooding even.

Feb 4, 2013 - 10:58am PT
Run the water thru colloidal silver ceramic filters.

You won't need chlorine for the drinking water.

We used those filters in the worst places you've ever seen in Africa and never got sick.


Social climber
So Cal
Feb 4, 2013 - 01:59pm PT
We sell about every kind of water purification equipment there is and for a lo tech, easy to opperate and maintain system, the Tablet Calcium Hypochlorite side stream setup in your vid is the way to go.

Maybe building underdrains and a sand filter into the bottom of the tank would be one more step to take.

Check on your well casing and seal. Make sure your well contamination isn't being introduced from the surface.

A really good resource for this kind of situaton are the old Army FM manuals (FM10-52) on the subject. These are available on line a PDFs for free, explain all the relative theory in parctical terms and have lots of alternative approaches.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Feb 4, 2013 - 09:36pm PT
Another system that works if electricity exists and it is properly maintained is passing it through UV light.

Social climber
So Cal
Feb 4, 2013 - 09:49pm PT
Both UV and Ozone are relatively energy intensive, capital intensive and suitable only for primary disinfection.

And, there are really two aspects to disinfection.

Primary disinfection, (killin all the bugs in the incoming water source)

and residual disinfection, (keeping the water free of bugs till it's consumed)

While all the techniques that will take care of the residual will work as a primary disinfectant, it doesn't work the other way round.

The tablet chlorinators are about foolproof as long as you don't let them run empty and the sidestream supply is rigged in a failsafe configuration.

Chlorine residual is easily checked with cheap test strips as well.


Trad climber
Feb 4, 2013 - 10:04pm PT
Sawyer makes pretty simple reliable filters for applications such as underdeveloped regions.
Lynne Leichtfuss

Sport climber
moving thru
Feb 4, 2013 - 10:10pm PT
Tooth, if you have time, could you tell us more about the orphanege and the kids, how long you've worked there, goals. I think some would like to help if not financially, spending volunteer time or/and praying. lynne

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Feb 4, 2013 - 10:24pm PT

Those microfiber filters are amazing and so much cheaper then the ceramic ones (technology marches on).

Both need maintenance however, and I have seen the ceramic versions fail (katadyn) when not cleaned frequently enough or washed on both sides with polluted water. The problem so frequently in Nepal at least, is that the theory of germs is not well understood.I had many debates over invisible germs vs ghosts, demons and angry mountain gods as the cause.

My favorite story along these lines however, came from overhearing my cook tell his family who was visiting, "Hindus can't eat beef, Muslims can't eat pork and Christians can only drink boiled water".


Social climber
So Cal
Feb 4, 2013 - 11:12pm PT
"Hindus can't eat beef, Muslims can't eat pork and Christians can only drink boiled water".


What we are talking about here is a system that can;

Provide enough clean water for dally village life, (between 5 and 50 gallons per person and somewhere between 1500 and 100,000 gallons a day)

And, is maintainable without much in the way of skill set and imported resources.

Fancy filters suitable for backpacking or expeditionary use won't cut it. it has to be something easily locally constructed and low tech.

Trad climber
Feb 4, 2013 - 11:29pm PT
That Sawyer bucket gravity feed filter is pretty low tech and easily cleaned and cheap. I have been using it for a while on the Green River and it works great.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Feb 4, 2013 - 11:30pm PT
I bet you don't wash it in the Green River though and for sure not in a third world river.

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 5, 2013 - 02:15am PT
First of all, thanks for all the help, contacts and suggestions. I appreciate it!


THere are cattle and kids. This land is open field now that they have cleared it and I see cows grazing there every day. We are currently building a 9' wall around the 5+ acres and putting in septic systems for the homes. I have no idea where the aquifer extends to, or what the dimensions are. We have the only well in the area, all the neighbors are using it now. here's the notes from the well drillers log...

80' 6" PVC Casing with 20" PVC screen below that. Estimate 25-30 GPM. Static water level 50'.
0-3' limestone and black clay.
3' to 30' yellow clay and fine sand
30' to 40' gravel and yellow clay
40' to 55' fine sand and gravel and yellow clay
55' to 60' big gravel and yellow clay
65' to 80' sand and yellow clay
80' to 100' blue clay and small sand and gravel.
caving in from 80' to 100'.

Apparently they quit drilling any deeper because he has the roof of the aquifer cave in on him at if he continues in the gravel. Plus, we are so near the ocean that some wells down the road hit salt water at 50'.

Our plans for anything here have to be pretty fool-proof, simple to maintain and operate, and not cost anything. The whole idea is to provide a self-sustainable operation so that they won't be relying on outside $$. So water systems should match that. It needs to treat all the water for cooking, showering, etc. for up to 9 homes, 200 orphans and all the home parents. Thousands of gallons a day.

We will have solar systems to produce electricity. This neighborhood (or cleared area of forest out side of town) is not connected to any services nor will it be for the foreseeable future. I'm almost off the grid now in Canada, but this case is much different, there are so many people the infrastructure has to support.

Lynne, I will share!

Basically, I quit my job 4 years ago in Guam and went to Haiti with some friends to do dentistry. This was before the earthquake. My friends had just started a non-profit, New Reality International, and we started spending more time figuring out how to help out. it keeps growing, and last year I think we brought over 100 Dr's to Haiti and saw tens of thousands of patients doing everything from extractions and amputations to health education classes.

We also have been expanding to projects in Myanmar, Guyana, Guatemala, and Nigeria.

In Myanmar we spent a lot of time at Monasteries, treating Monks. The lack of education and the fact that they can't own anything meant that they couldn't own toothbrushes and didn't know why they should use them. It meant that 400 kids at one orphanage/monastery all had the same contagious skin diseases because they shared clothes, bedding, cups to eat with and razors to keep them bald. We ended up treating that more than doing dentistry. They were malnourished, begged for food twice a day, and were a general strain on society. Then we went to a Christian orphanage and were bored. Everyone was healthy, clean, and were growing acres of food to eat and then sell.

For me it was like a light went on. We had been patching holes in Haiti, putting out fires, pulling teeth when they hurt, even building some homes for people we had gotten to know who had lost theirs in the earthquake. But we weren't doing anything to help their society take care of themselves.

Since the earthquake, billions have been spent on the place. An estimated 7% has made it to the ground. The people there aren't impressed with the 'help'. It has caused inflation, and so much of it gets spent on building hotels owned by foreigners, spent on hotel rooms and imported food. Spent on foreign equipment like cement mixers and while they mix cement, 10 locals are out of work, sitting, watching what they could be doing to feed their family get done by a machine paid for with donated money. Money that went to an American machine company, American shipping company, American aid company, Italian-owned new hotel for the American volunteers. They build it their way, without input from the people who have to live in it. Right down the street from our orphanage is a village being built by USAid. The locals have nothing nice to say about the project, nobody wants to live there. They had no say in it, few local jobs produced from it, etc.

The other big issue I have been seeing is the Orphanage industry boom. The loads of money being sent down to sponsor kids has done what big money does, corrupt. Besides the obvious sponsoring non-existent kids, there are now more kids in orphanages with parents than without. Many dump their kids and take off to the States or Toronto, or just leave them there and live a little better themselves at home.

Then there are the staff who work at these places for a living, a poor living and get frustrated and take it out on the kids because the kids get given food and stuff from their sponsors and the facility doesn't have enough money to pay decently. (our place has only 'volunteer'/paid people who want to be there.)

One of our kids was a slave/orphan. Another abuse that is becoming a problem with the proliferation of the orphanage industry.

So far, I haven't spent any of the donor money on the project, just personal so send surveyors down, drill the well, etc. My climbing buddy, a dentist who has climbed McKinley, Aconcagua, etc. etc. has quit his office and is moving down there this month to oversee the project. One he is there, and we know that money won't disappear and won't add to the problems it is already causing down there we will use donor money. We have a few Haitians that we can trust, but when we ask them to deal with big money they decline and say that they don't want the temptation. We just got a list of job descriptions and prices per day it will cost us to make the blocks by hand, mix cement by hand, dig foundations by hand. My father is a structural engineer and along with a volunteer architect we have the construction plans done. We have a farmer from Alberta working on getting them using the land for food.

The interesting thing about this orphanage is that it is run by 7 families. Each one takes 1 day of the week to feed the kids. There is a mechanic, a carpenter, a mason, a doctor, etc. So they plan to teach the kids after they finish at the local schools so that they can move out and be useful additions to their society and make a living and support their families. We will have space there to do this, so far they have already built a chicken coop and are teaching the kids business. They each get a .50 cent chick to feed for a few months. Then they sell them for $7. 1/4 of the profit goes for the next chickens, a quarter goes for charity, a quarter goes for their own food, and they get to spend a quarter. They want to expand this to other animals once we move them onto the land out of the rented place with the 10x30 mud yard.

So getting back to the monasteries in Myanmar and what they made me realize, I really believe that Haiti can really only be helped by creating jobs, creating people who can create and work jobs, people who will stay in Haiti and help others around them, people who add to their environment rather than just take. Education is good, but what you read in a book at school and how your community functions are two different versions of education and only one will truly make a difference for the country.

When I heard about how this orphanage was already operating I wanted to help support them because it made sense. I like to see results whether I'm investing my money, operating my company or even donating and getting a tax-deductible receipt. I hate doing free dentistry for people who don't use the free toothbrush I give them. I enjoy returning to Guyana each year and not having anything to do at schools I have been to before because the teachers are truly helping the kids learn how to take care of their oral health. So when my friends told me about building an orphanage I wasn't very interested at first. Haiti doesn't need more orphanages. They need their adults to smarten up and either quit having kids, or take care of the ones that they do have, I thought. But I can't do anything about that. I can only help so that tomorrow's adults will be less likely to make the same poor choices.

Or plan is to move the current orphans onto the land set up to sustain themselves without outside input. Once we are done, we want to see kids coming out of there who can support themselves and their families and who have already been adding to their society.

Here's the story of what we are doing one of our members put together....


Trad climber
Feb 5, 2013 - 03:01am PT
What cupton said is the best advice. For 100% certainty as to safety, with a bit of capital and maintenance cost to set up the system and replace chlorine tablets, use the chlorine system. For reduced certainty (90%?), but still improvement over nothing, the biosand filtration works, but will take some occasional human power maintenance and work to maintain flowrates. Less chemical inputs and continuing costs, but this requires dedicated people to maintain or else its useless. Do everyone a favor and fence the livestock out at least 50' from the well, and make sure no other fecal sources in that zone either. More space (100+') is better, but not always possible. With that level of pumping (1000s of gallons a day), this is a shallow groundwater well that is going to pull any nearby shallow GW up into the well, so source protection is your cheapest and most effective long term solution.
Delhi Dog

Good Question...
Feb 5, 2013 - 04:08am PT
I don't really have anything to add regarding the filtration system but have lived in Bangladesh + India for many years (and been to a few of those monasteries in Myanmar/Burma) and see first hand what a difference not only clean water makes but especially what a difference people like Tooth are making in this world.

Tooth, thanks for all you do to make this little blue planet shine a little brighter!


Credit: Delhi Dog
Fat Paul

Trad climber
Right Coast
Feb 10, 2013 - 11:10pm PT
Tooth, there are aproximately 20 diffent species of total coliform which are naturally found in soil and water, however a few are pathenogenic. If the well had total coliforms present, the samples should be tested for fecal coliform or E. coli. Was this additional testing done? The well can be shock chlorinated to mitigate the problem. See USEPA or CDC guidance for flooded wells.

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 11, 2013 - 09:34pm PT
Thanks Paul. We will be doing further testing next, but first we are building a 9 foot wall around the 5 acres as well as some bathrooms since there are so many cows and people all around the well. We'll check into treating the aquifer then for sure!
Mr Roy

Feb 11, 2013 - 10:43pm PT
Thanks Batrock for that link..

OH, and a great big high five to you too Tooth !
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