Monday, February 6, 2012

Decentralized Water and Waste- Honduras

These are a group of children from the community of Siete. Their family's homes were destroyed by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. There were about 400 disparate people/families from numerous locations that were "squatting" on this high ground when I visited there in December 2008. These are very poor people living on dirt floors with very poor sanitary conditions. Regardless, I was struck by their beauty, attitude, love and strong family bonds (picture below by Shin Fujiyama).
We were invited to Honduras to assist Students Helping Honduras. Mike Craun and I provided the expertise to assess the topography, drainage patterns, soils, and groundwater to design a decentralized water and waste water system(s) for a new community to provide homes for approximately 200 people.

When we were asked to assess the property, the project was in full swing. Nearly one-half of the buildings had been erected and plans included a huge soccer field, orphanage and school.
However, there had not been a survey, topography had not been "shot" and the "experts" here in the states didn't know the direction in which the land drained, nor did they know if a stream was present on the property. Still, the occupants desired in-door plumbing and there was no - nada- none-zero idea(s)of how to deal with the waste disposal for a community of 200 occupants.

Our team included Mike Craun, an experienced civil engineer with a strong background in public health and sanitary solutions, me- a geologist with experience in groundwater, public health and decentralized waste disposal and Antonio Martinez (background), an architect with loads of experience working with communities in central America. Antonio also acted as intrepreter.

One of the first tasks was to conduct a draw-down test on the
community well. In the picture on the right are members of the community getting ready to collect water samples for laboratory analysis. The well was pumped at a rate of 60 gallons per minute for an extended period of time and only experienced about 7 feet of total drawdown.

We then began to conduct a sanitary survey of the property and neighboring environs. In the upgradient position we found a village of 80 homes with living conditions that would offend even my own 1970's "back to the land" lifestyle. Waste water from the homes would simply be dumped in a drain and allowed to flow into the "street" and human waste was disposed of into a pit privy. Each home possessed a pit privy.
Down gradient were several springs. One is pictured here where women would come to wash clothes and collect water for drinking.

In the end a sewer system was designed that treated the waste to a high degree prior to discharge, a plumbing system was installed for both drinking water and toilets. The occupants built every last bit of it themselves and took control of every aspect of construction and organization.

Weekly community meetings were held reviewing accomplishments and what steps needed to be taken next. A great experience with some very loving, hard-working and community oriented people.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Environment of Deposition- at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains

I am currently working on an academic (or "geologic") problem at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Rappahannock County, Virginia. I'll be working with Dr. Scott Eaton from JMU. The site is located on an "upland flat" on Route 231 between the Hazel River on the north and Hawlin Road on the south. Locally, this portion of Rappahannock County is known as F.T. Valley- named after Francis Thornton who owned a whole lot of real estate beginning sometime during the 18th century. He also owned the toll road crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains at Thornton Gap (see Figure below). While I couldn't find a lot of information about him, I found this Wikipedia Link about Thornton Gap which gives some information

This is unusual, but not unheard of, terrain in the eastern Blue Ridge Province of Virginia. There are several other similar areas close by: Banco/Criglersville, Etlan/Nethers, Sperryville and Gid Brown Hollow (near RT 211)- to mention a few.

The slope of the land in this particular area is approximately 2% (or less). I find that very interesting given the surrounding rolling and steep terrain that makes up this portion of the the Blue Ridge physiographic region. I suspect the flatness may be due several factors: perhaps erosion (not intuitively pleasing) or simply the uniform weathering of the bedrock (maybe); regardless, I want to find out (if possible) why it is flat. Is it coincidence that this upland flat is the "platform" for deposits of debris from the flanks of the Blue Ridge or are some thers factors at work?

Additionally, there are several (or more) terrace deposits on this platform/upland flat. I want to know what their relative ages and under what conditions they were deposited. Geologist now know that catastrophic rainfall events occur on a somewhat regular basis in the Appalachians and are responsible for many landscape forms (geo-morphology).

The photo above was taken in western Madison County, Virginia after the catastrophic (>30 inches in 16 hrs)rainfalls during June of 1995. Here is a link to Scott Eaton's paper on the Madison County floods of 1995.

Perhaps we may be able to determine how many episodes occurred here by studying the soils and their relative elevation with the Hazel River and to each other. Obtaining this information may help in predicting periodicity for this particular watershed and similar ones on the Blue Ridge.

Groundwater Lecture

I was recently reading up on Darcy's Law and ran across a series of lectures by Peter Cook presented at the Henry Darcy Distinguished Lecture Series in Groundwater Science. It is a three (3) part series: If interested: Here's a link to the first of the three: