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Primavera del Ixcan and Sa'acte Uno, Guatemala

Project: Water Resources and Rain Catchment

Guatemala map 

Project Origins

Primavera del Ixcan is a village of about 1,600 inhabitants located 12 miles from the Mexican border in the lowlands of the northern Quiche department of Guatemala. It is an indigenous Mayan community founded in 1996 by refugees who had fled to the jungle during the country’s decades-long civil war.  Most residents engage in subsistence farming, although an agricultural cooperative does run a rubber plantation for export.

The village is divided into two sectors, the larger of which receives its tap water from a spring located among the rubber trees. A number of chemicals are applied to the trees on a regular basis as fungicides or coagulants, and the feared leeching of these chemicals into the groundwater has led to the abandonment of tap water for drinking and cooking. Rather, residents search for water in various local wells, springs or streams located outside of the rubber plantation (though often within the same watershed). Besides possible contamination, the existent water distribution network faces supply shortfalls during the three-month dry season. Additionally, since the system is purely gravity-fed, families living at higher elevations around the edges of Primavera do not receive tap water at any point during the year. Our assessment trip in August and September of 2011 was aimed at identifying a project that could remedy one or both issues of water quality and quantity.

 

Assessment Trip Findings

A laboratory analysis of the tap water returned negative results for the presence of any volatile organic compounds found in the chemicals applied to the rubber trees. This lack of contamination was an unexpected but welcomed result indicating that the tap water is okay for residents to drink after boiling (incubation of filtered water samples revealed a high coliform count).

Another finding that countered information we had received before our assessment trip was that community leaders had already drafted a proposal to install a new water distribution system to address supply issues. The proposed system would pump water from a local stream that runs year round to a tank atop a nearby hill. From this high altitude, water pressure would be sufficient to supply tap water to every home in Primavera. Infrastructure for this proposed distribution network would be partially rehabilitated from the remnants of a similar system that was in place about a decade ago before the pump failed. Lack of funding was the main piece holding back the installation of this improved system.

Although it will likely be a number of years before this project is actually implemented by Primavera, the technical details seem to be squared away. Thus, our water testing and the administration of surveys regarding water-use habits served not as tools for a project assessment, but more generally to guide recommendations for the short-run and long-run development of Primavera’s water resources.

Over the course of our stay in Primavera, we made two visits to the nearby village of Sa’acte Uno, which has no water distribution network. Just one well in the village provides quality drinking water, and in the dry season when many springs and streams dry up, residents line up long into the night in order to pump water from the well. In addition to seasonal shortfalls in supply, residents often travel long distances year round to procure sufficient water. Community leaders expressed interest in the implementation of a rainwater catchment system at the local primary school. Such a system would provide sanitation in the form of hand washing stations for the students, and it would reduce the distance traveled to collect water for use in the school kitchen, which, through government assistance, provides a daily snack for each student. We are currently looking into various design options for rainwater harvesting.

 

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Intake site for proposed water pumping system.