El Chile Water Supply, El Salvador

El Chile Water Supply

Santiago El Chile (called simply “El Chile” by those living there) is a community of about 600 people located on the flanks of the San Vicente volcano in central El Salvador. The community water supply comes from a spring far below the town. The spring water flows into a tank next to the spring. Before this project, the residents carried their water up the long hill every day. For each family, this task usually required several hours of work daily.

Although the chemical quality of the spring water is good, the water is contaminated with fecal coliform and other bacteria. During the long dry season, the spring flow is too little to meet everyone’s needs and water rationing is very common. During that period, each family may get only 10 to 15 gallons of water a day for all their drinking, cooking, washing and hygiene needs. Hygiene (hand washing, etc.) usually is the first need to go unmet, and as a result the families often suffer from more illness during water-short times.

After the disastrous earthquake of 2001 damaged or destroyed many buildings in town, a new community center was built in the upper part of town, and Catholic Relief Services (CARITAS) built a water tank next to the new community center. Rain gutters on the community center make a rainwater collection system to fill the new water tank. This system helps during the wet season, but after the rains stop in December, the tank is emptied within a few days and does not fill again until the rainy season starts in May or June. The residents therefore rely on the spring for most of their water supply, and seasonal shortages of water are a part of life.

Water for the Americas helped students with the Colorado State University chapter of Engineers Without Borders design and implement improvements to the water system of El Chile. The project resulted from community surveys, including detailed health surveys, conducted by a Peace Corps volunteer stationed in the area in 2004-2006. The community members identified their most important need as a more reliable water supply.

The preferred option was to pipe water to El Chile by gravity from existing or new wells in the neighboring town of La Laguneta, where another project was under way. That would have kept both the construction and operating costs relatively low. However, neither the new or existing wells in La Laguneta had enough capacity to provide both towns with water.

The option finally selected by the community as a compromise between utility and affordability was to pump water from the tank next to the spring up to the water tank at the community center and install a community tap stand with six taps in the center of town, fed by gravity through piping from the community center water tank. A chlorination system on the water tank was included to remove the bacterial contamination.

The CSU students, with help from WFTA, designed the improvements. Using funding from the Rotary Clubs of Fort Collins and Broomfield, Colorado and San Salvador, El Salvador, Rotary International, the Rotary Foundation, and private donations, the materials were purchased and a mason and an electrician were contracted. The El Chile community members dug the trench for the water pipes and helped install them. The municipality of Zacatecoluca, where El Chile is located, helped by extending electrical power to the spring tank. The chlorination system was purchased from ASSA (Asociación Salvadoreña de Sistemas de Agua, or Salvadoran Water Systems Association), who also provides training in many facets of rural water system operation and maintenance.

The El Chile water committee arranged for ASSA to provide educational programs to the community on the new water system and also on sanitation and hygiene practices. ASSA also trained the water committee on the operation and maintenance of the chlorination system and on collection and management of an account established for water system maintenance and funded by user fees. Rates were set so as to be affordable by the families but still provide the money to pay pumping costs, maintain the piping and chlorination systems, and periodically replace the pump.

The completed improvements provide clean, treated water to the community and save the community members thousands of hours of labor formerly spent carrying water. The improvement in health conditions provided by the water system will be assessed by follow-up health surveys covering the same information as the baseline survey done by the Peace Corps.