Water, water, everywhere

By Kim Stock

It’s not a very dry topic—once you filter out everything else.

Four University of Calgary Environmental Science students will travel to Nicaragua this summer to test U of C professor David Manz’s BioSand Water Filter.

With the help of the Evangelical non-governmental organization Samaritan’s Purse and a $9,500 grant from the International Grants Committee of the U of C, Delphine Bouvry, Ines Kwan, Cameron Baughen and Kiran Lerner (depicted at top left, sans Kiran) leave July 4 to realize their ambitions of scientific research.

“We might help prove that [Manz’s] filter is efficient in other aspects,” said Bouvry.

The filter, of Davnor Water Treatment Technologies Ltd., already effectively removes bacteria, parasites and odours from water. The students want to test its ability to remove pesticides SUch as DDT and Toxaphene.

“If [the filter] proves to be effective in removing pesticides, it shows [Manz’s] filter has more qualities than other filter designs,” said Bouvry.

The BioSand Water Filter possesses unique characteristics of the two existing kinds of filters: intermittent and continuous. Unlike other intermittent filters, Manz’s filter develops a biological layer that helps remove microbes from water.

Targeting the Leon Chinandega region of Nicaragua to conduct their research, the students will work out of Managua and utilize the facilities of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua.

“It’s a good place to test the filters in practice,” said Bouvry. “Nicaragua has water quality problems.”

A huge cotton plantation in the ’60s and ’70s, Western Nicaragua is now one of the poorest regions in Central America. Although pesticides called organochlorines (DDT and Toxaphene) used in cotton fields were banned in the late ’70s, they continue to appear in well water.

According to David Bethune of the U of C International Centre, 80 per cent of Nicaraguans use ground water from wells.

“Water wells are the only water supply—there are no decent rivers,” said Bethune. “These chemicals are being found in high levels in mother’s milk, blood samples and fatty tissues.”
There is additional reason for environmental concern, according to Bethune.

“Governments, non-governmental organizations and international agencies would like to economically revitalize the region,” he said. “One of the proposals is to start growing cotton again.”

While a short-term effect of implementing this proposal would be employment, the water quality problems could worsen.

“[Economic revitalization] needs to be done in an environmentally sustainable way,” Bethune concluded.

Samaritan’s Purse has already taken the initiative to build and integrate the BioSand Water Filters in Nicaragua, Honduras, Kenya, Ethiopia and Southeast Asia. Other organizations are introducing them in other countries, including Nepal, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

The filters are practical because they are simple to use and maintain and the construction materials (concrete, sand and gravel) can be found anywhere.

Tackling contaminated water in Nicaragua and other developing countries also alleviates long-term health problems.

The students are still scrambling to organize details of the trip while taking Spanish lessons.

“We might sleep in dorms or hostels,” said Bouvry. “The grant covers 90 per cent of our costs.”

They also need to find sponsors to contribute incidental needs, such as backpacking materials.

“This is important because these students are showing immense initiative,” said Dixon. “There’s a lot of responsibility carried by them. Successful completion of [the project] will show that students are capable of competing for grants, influence other grants and gain the university considerable respect.”

The team returns home Aug. 29.

For more information on undergraduate grants up to $9,500, call Pat Evans of Research Service at 220–3782. Make a trip to the International Centre on the 5th floor of Biological Science if you are interested in graduate research in Central America. To learn more about Manz’s BioSand Water Filter, visit their site.

Leave a comment