Wednesday, July 11, 2012

All is set for a great new project.

Tuesday morning Raynold and I finished our survey from the spring into town by 9 AM!  I guess you get to be ahead of schedule when you start 3 straight days of 4:30 AM.  It's still dark then but much cooler.  We paid our survey helpers, each for $US 10 a day and headed into town.  We went street by street and took notes about the conditions where we would have to dig to install the water pipes.  Our biggest obstacle is the canals built for rainwater drainage, each is about 3 feet wide and 4 to 8 feet deep.  The idea is to avoid crossing them as much as possible but eventually we'll have to navigate them one way or another.  It sounds like Raynold is going to have the guys tunnel under them by hand.  He'll likely have to make 20-30 crossings.

Then on Wednesday morning we headed out to measure the flow of water into the water tank above Hinche.  There is an old water system built in the early 80's.  It provides maybe 5 gallons per person every other day.  The way we measure the flow is to close the valve leaving the tank and measure the rise of water in the tank per minute.  We measured 200 gallons per minute, less than half what the new system will need.  But our contract does not address the water supply component of the system.

With all of our survey results collected it was time to meet with the government water authority and present our results.  There also happens to be a project funded by the national government to create a master plan for this very water system.  There has been a European company in town for the past 3-4 months doing the study.  But because their results won't be ready or approved for at least a few months we were called in to create a plan that could be built at least where the new roads are going.  It was a great meeting and all appear to be on board with the ideas we presented.  I had an AutoCAD plan of  the water pipe layout for the entire system for all to see.  We received some great feedback from the local water guys to tweak the design.  We are also hoping to incorporate as many of the ideas from the other engineer's plan as possible.

The day ended at the SECOSA office in Port au Prince.  They are the road contractor and the source of funds for our water project.  They checked out our plan and approved an initial payment to get the project moving along.  The road builders in Hinche were ready for pipe to be laid months ago so the sooner we can get materials ordered and on site the better.  If it takes more than a couple weeks I'm afraid they will start paving streets.  That would make our job nearly impossible.  Oh, Haiti; why do you have to work backwards like this... humph. 

While we were waiting in the SECOSA office I dropped in and had a chat with their AutoCAD technician.  I had spent almost 2 days cleaning up his drawing before I could use it for each of the past 3 water projects.  So I figured a bit of instruction could go a long way in making my job easier.  He was more than happy to take the instruction and it turned into an hour-long training session.  I'm sure he came right out of school and was asked to create drawings without any kind of mentor or established system for working. I also had a couple hour session teaching my student, Raynold how to use AutoCAD the other night.  He's attempting to run it on a Mac which is a nightmare but we'll find a way somehow to get him creating his own plans.

So far our partnership with the SECOSA road contractor has been very productive.  So much of the money spent in Haiti goes for reports and studies.  Very little ever actually gets built.  In this arrangement SECOSA gets a contract to build the roads and tacks a water system onto the contract.  We share the same survey and AutoCAD drawing which saves time and money.  It also guarantees that work actually gets done.  And I'm proud to say that almost every penny we spend on labor goes into the pocket of a Haitian, killing 2 birds with one stone.  They get jobs and a water system all in the same project. 

This trip has nearly come to an end.  I'll be on a plane back to the States within a few hours.  But it was more productive than I could have imagined.  We also started some great relationships that I think will go a long way towards moving Haiti forward.  So until next time na'we pita from the Red Hat Water Guy...


Monday, July 9, 2012

Voodoo falls.

The old man leading the group hunches low and whispers, "that waterfall has voodoo magic."  The voodoo faithful from far and wide come to visit. Even wealthy Haitians dedicated to the craft have been known to land a helicopter in the area for a day trip to partake in the magical powers.  I just grin and keep walking but the old man isn't smiling.

Yesterday morning we hiked out 4 miles to the spring for the Hinche water supply and surveyed most of the way back.  It was a scorching hot day.  I forgot to wear my sandals so the guys started carrying me across the rivers.  But after the first fall I gave up and just plodded through.  So on top of crazy sun burn and a need to ration my meager supply of water among 6 guys I was also walking in soggy shoes all day.  We worked 5 AM until 5 PM in the field and arrived home just in time to miss a downpour.  After all it is the middle of rainy season.

This morning we completed our survey by 9 AM, a total of 5 miles in less than a day and a half.  I am finally confident Raynold has mastered the skills to survey by himself with either the abney or dumpy levels.  I've worked hard for the past 2 years to teach him this skill.  With it he can do the field survey, send me the data and I can send him the design of the water system.  That is until he learns to design them himself. 

Today we toured our construction site, about 10 kilometers of streets within the city of Hinche.  The road contractor has already built most of the drainage canals beneath the roads.  We spent much of the day figuring how we plan to navigate them with the fewest number of crossings.  At one point Raynold asked, don't they have some kind of tool that we can just push the pipe under the canal?  I said yes, it's called a directional boring machine and likely costs at least $30-50,000.  To which he replied, "No, we are in Haiti, we cannot do that."  I hope someday they can.  But for now I think we'll solve the challenge with a chunk of iron, a big hammer and some poor Haitian smashing it under the canal for 10 bucks a day.

The engineer for the road construction project is a very intelligent Haitian with 15 years of experience.  He has had the courage and foresight to delay paving the roads for months now to help us out with laying our pipes.  We spent much of the day with him today coordinating our construction efforts.  At one point it was Salomon, the road engineer and Raynold, the water engineer-in-training walking down the street talking solutions.  A wave of emotion came over me at the instant when I realized that here are two intelligent Haitians with incredible initiative building their own dang country.  It feels great to be a part of this.  I'm sure there will be many frustrations along the way but today was one of those days I try not to forget.  Days like today are the reason I am where I am today.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

One great leap in life...

Ok. Quick update from the events of the past 4 months.  I quit my job in Minnesota, moved to South Dakota to follow a pretty girl and started a new position with a small company called Northwater.  We are only 3, Jeff in Springfield, IL; James in Chicago, IL and me in Rapid City, SD.  This has been my dream since I left East Timor 6 years ago.  I am once again full time in the business of international water and sanitation, wohoo!  I've set up a small office for myself in Rapid City and outfitted it with all the tools I need to design and manage water projects from the States with occasional trips to the field.

So last Friday I received notice to design a water system for Hinche, Haiti and book a plane ticket ASAP.  I spent 4 of the next 5 days with my head buried in my computer and emerged on Wednesday with a pretty cool plan for the entire city of Hinche, population 35,000.  It felt great to have whole days to work on a dream project.  I put together an AutoCAD map of the water system.  I modeled the flows and pressures within the system with EPANET and also put together a project manual that spells out the type of pipe and construction techniques.

We've learned a lot about construction in Haiti with our past projects in Pignon and Saint Raphael.  I also pulled in a few tricks I picked up along the way working on a project in Honduras.  All this experience has culminated in this Hinche project.  I was able to create an image of my AutoCAD drawing, import it into EPANET and draw the system to the proper size and scale.  This little trick saves me about 2 days of manual data entry and results in a much cleaner product.  We've also learned to bury water pipes at least 4 feet deep to prevent sabotage by unruly residents and damage by road construction. 

We were, I believe one of the first to introduce pressure testing to check for leaks in newly constructed pipes in Haiti.  We have been doing it with an air compressor but we are going to try and make the leap to pressure testing with water and up the pressure to 100 psi.  I just mentioned this to my student, Raynold and he's not too sure about 100 psi pressure.  He has seen the effects of pipe blowing apart at 50 psi but I've assured him that concrete thrust blocking will do the trick at these higher pressures.  He will also need to be very selective about who he allows to glue the pipe if the pressure test is going to meet this new standard.

I spent the day teaching Gidel how to survey with a dumpy level.  The Pignon water system, my first big project in Haiti, is nearly completed.  They only have to lay pipe in 2 streets and then the distribution grid will be complete.  The next challenge in Pignon will be to develop the water supply.  Our survey today will provide me what I need to put together a few options.  I'm going to propose developing both a spring and another well to supply the system.  We'll see if we can get a pressure sand filter to work in the supply line from the springs as we know that water is contaminated by nearby latrines.

Then just before dark tonight Raynold came flying through town on a 4-wheeler fresh off exams at his weekend engineering college courses in Cap Haitian, picked me up and drove to Hinche.  It was a whirlwind 45 minutes on one of the worst roads in Haiti.  We crossed 3 rivers on the way and got lucky they were much lower than a few days ago.  Tomorrow morning we'll head out the door at 5 AM to survey from the spring down to the reservoir above town.  Monday is another day of surveying and Tuesday we'll have a meeting with government and city officials and the road contractor to discuss the project.

My two students, Raynold and Gidel are hot on the  trail of starting families of their own.  Here's Raynold with his girl, Lovelie. 

Then another with Gidel with his wife Wodeline and their 4 month old son, look at all that hair!!
Cheers for now.  I'll try to write more in a day or two.