Engineering Students Build Water Pump To Aid People In Tiny Belize Village

Published: Jan. 22, 2001

Note to Editors: Students will demonstrate the water pump and be available to the media on Friday, Jan. 26 at 11:30 a.m. in the Hydraulics Laboratory at the CU-Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science. Photos of the town of San Pablo in Belize also will be available at the event. For directions to the lab, please call (303) 492-7426.

About 250 Mayan Indians living in the village of San Pablo in southwestern Belize are looking to civil engineering students at the University of Colorado at Boulder to help them meet one of life's most basic needs.

Living 100 feet in elevation above the Swasey River, the villagers -- whose livelihood comes from working at a nearby banana plantation -- have no way to obtain drinking and irrigation water. Currently the village children carry water up the hill by the bucketful.

Their plight was brought to the attention of Professor Bernard Amadei of the civil, environmental and architectural engineering department last April while he was in Belize on sabbatical. The Belize Ministry of Agriculture asked Amadei to help the villagers by designing and installing a water delivery system.

Amadei, along with friend and Boulder area industry representative Denis Walsh, have since led a team of five CU undergraduate students in building a water pump capable of delivering 10 gallons of water per minute up the slope to the village.

The hydraulic ram pump is a simple mechanical device powered by the river's current and a waterfall. It uses no electricity while providing a sustainable technology for the developing Central American nation.

The students developed the pump using a design created by the Development Technology Group at the University of Warwick, England, and fabricated it out of steel and brass in the machine shop at the engineering college's Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory. The students first built a smaller prototype, but testing determined that a more robust pump was needed for the village.

"What we are trying to do is bring appropriate technology to various communities in the developing world," said Amadei. "I see it as engineering with meaning."

To complete the water system, students now are trying to raise an estimated $15,000 for pipe and construction materials to build three holding tanks, a water filtration and purification system and travel expenses to Belize for the students and advisors. The group plans to work with the villagers over CU-Boulder's Spring Break during the last week in March to install the system and teach the villagers how to maintain it.

"This project is giving me a different perspective on what I can do with my degree when I'm done at CU," said engineering student Seth Friedly, a junior from Franktown, Colo. "It's fun to use what we know and help the people out."

For more information or to donate to the project, call Professor Amadei at (303) 492-7734.