SOUTHFIELD – Volunteers of the Detroit chapter of the group Engineers Without Borders have been hard at work designing a solution for Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua, a small community struggling with contaminated drinking water.
Now, they’re helping plan a black-tie gala set for Friday, June 3, to help fund the effort to solve this problem.
Laguna de Apoyo is a beautiful crater lake, 3 1/2 miles across, not far from Nicaragua’s Pacific coast. A road runs alongside its western shore. On the lake side of the road are vacation homes, owned mostly by wealthier Nicaraguans. On the back side of the road are the far more modest homes of about 400 people who eke out a living, mostly by caring for the vacation homes.
The groundwater in the volcanic crater is naturally high in toxic arsenic, which can cause cancer with long-term exposure. Some wells being used by the villagers are also open to the environment, leading to contamination by harmful bacteria. Many homes in the area don’t have indoor plumbing and rely on outdoor latrines.
“We knew about the bacterial contamination when we took on the project,” said EWB Detroit president Dan Royal, a graduate engineer at Hubbell, Roth, & Clark, Inc. “Finding arsenic caused us to consider
alternatives that will be more complicated, but will ultimately be much more sustainable.”
After several fact-finding assessment trips to the area, Engineers Without Borders Detroit is raising money to drill a well to provide clean drinking water to the 300 villagers. The money will also fund a sanitation system to improve health and hygiene in the community. The project will also be partly funded by local businesses and the local municipality. EWB Detroit is also being assisted by the owners of a hostel along the lake, called Hostel Paradiso.
“The area is a nature reserve, which complicates things,” said EWB Detroit’s Bruce Nieman, the Nicaragua project lead and a platform manager for GAS Projects at DTE Energy Corp. “But the only real restriction is that any wastewater must be completely contained and removed from the crater. We need to be sure that nothing goes into the soil or the lake.”
On Friday, June 3, EWB Detroit is hosting a black tie gala to raise money for the water and sanitation systems in Laguna de Apoyo. The event features a 20-piece jazz band, a three-course dinner, cocktails, and a silent auction, as well as a keynote speech by Kim Pittel, Vice President, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, Ford Motor Co. In her role as Ford Motor Company’s top environmental and safety officer, Pittel is responsible for the company’s global environment and safety strategy, policy, and performance as well as assuring that Ford meets or exceeds all safety and environmental regulations worldwide. Most recently, Pittel served as executive director, Global Supplier Technical Assistance, where she was responsible for establishing product launch and supplier quality processes to improve vehicle quality.
Tickets to the event are $150 and are available at http://ewb-detroit.org/events/gala/.
This event will mark EWB-Detroit’s second annual black tie fundraiser. Sponsors at last year’s event included DTE Energy, Sakti3, Hubbell Roth & Clark Inc. Engineers, the Wayne State University College of Engineering, SSOE Group Engineers, Price Gregory International, the Society of Petroleum Engineers, Holland Engineering, NTH Consultants Inc. Engineers, and the private equity firm Beringea.
The Detroit Chapter of Engineers Without Borders is a group of professionals from around Metro Detroit who are committed to helping communities in our region and around the world to attain a better quality of life. It is a chapter of Engineers Without Borders-USA, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with more than 12,000 members in over 250 chapters across the United States working on 400 programs in 45 countries throughout the world.