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In the United States it’s hard for us to imagine, but an estimated 3 million to 4 million people–mostly low-income children in developing nations–die each year from cholera, typhoid, dysentery and other water-borne diseases. This happens when people drink contaminated water.

Miches is a small seaside tropical paradise. But the residents of Miramar, a small community in Miches in one of the poorest provinces in the Dominican Republic, have no sanitary sewer treatment–and no drinking water treatment. Their water is a source of disease.

Engineers Without Borders will bring clean drinking water to Miramar

Engineers Without Borders will bring clean drinking water to Miramar

That’s where the Student Chapter of Engineers Without Borders comes in. This summer, these student engineers will travel to Miramar to bring clean drinking water to the 500 residents there.

The project will include a well, pumps and controls, water storage tank and distribution system. After construction is complete, the students will train local residents in the operation and maintenance of the system. Not only will the project improve the lives of the people in Miramar, but the students will get real-world experience in designing and building a drinking water system.

The Florida Rotary Clubs and Florida Section-American Water Works Association both contributed thousands of dollars towards the project.

Here’s a great video about Miches and the area where the project is taking place. Someday, I hope I have the time and opportunity to participate in a project like this.

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It’s something I don’t like to think about–but I have to as part of my job.

In the United States, we consider safe, clean drinking water to be a normal part of life. But there are some bad people in the world. People who want to harm us, or cause panic and chaos. Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security required public water systems to perform risk assessments to find our vulnerabilities. And to take steps protect our water systems.

We’ve made a lot of improvements (I can’t tell you what they are due to security reasons) but nobody has a completely secure system.

Professor Abraham Katzir, a physisict at Tel Aviv University, developed a new system to protect drinking water supplies. Professor Katzir created special fibers that can detect colors in the infared spectrum. People can’t see colors in this spectrum, though certain animals like bats and snakes can, and use them to track prey.

Professor Katzir

Professor Katzir

By connecting the special fibers to a colorimeter, Professor Katzir was able to detect poisons in the water at very low levels.

These sensors could be used in remote locations like reservoirs, pipelines or storage tanks to detect water contamination in real time. Being able to identify threats immediately could save lives and prevent widespread panic. Let’s face it, even a chemical that was harmless could cause chaos if it made the water taste funny.

Special Fibers Can Detect Low Levels of Water Contamination

Special Fibers Can Detect Low Levels of Water Contamination

Currently, water utilities run water quality tests regularly, but no technology is in use today that can detect such a wide variety of low-level contaminants in real time.

While the threat of chemoterrorism is remote, the old saying “better safe than sorry” certainly applies here. Let’s hope Professor Katzir’s invention makes it to the street sooner rather than later.

Photos from the Tel Aviv University website.

American Water Works Company, Inc., the largest investor-owned U.S. water and sewer utility company, went on record to say that their treatment methods keep the drinking water safe from swine influenza A (H1N1). Most utility companies in the United States use similar methods to make water safe for drinking.

For water supplies that come from surface waters, such as lakes or rivers, the water is typically filtered. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires all public water suppliers to disinfect drinking water before it’s distributed to your house. These techniques are very successful at killing or removing viruses.

The flu virus is larger than many other viruses, making it even easier to capture in a filter. Influenza is also more susceptible to disinfection, so that’s another plus for the humans.

As long as you’re drinking bottled water or water from your tap, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting swine flu from the water. One thing to be careful of though–don’t drink out of the hose. Hoses may be exposed to stormwater runoff, pesticides, fertilizers or other things you don’t want in your body.

Here in the United States we take clean drinking water for granted. With a turn of the faucet, we have as much water as we need and want–to soak in the tub, wash our clothes after wearing them only a few hours, or sprinkle our lawns so they’re lush and green.

But in the West African Republic of Ghana, some are not so lucky.

At the Tamale Children’s Home in Ghana, contaminated water is threatening the health of the children. The Children’s Home is a non-profit organization on the outskirts of Tamale, the third largest city in Ghana. It houses over thirty children–from infants to teenagers–who have no family to care for them.

Civil and mechanical engineering students from the University of North Florida are part of The Ghana Project 2009.

These students have the opportunity to improve the lives of the children by designing and constructing improvements at the Tamale Children’s Home. They will connect to municipal water where possible, improve the existing rainwater harvesting system, repair water tank foundations and set up clay pot filters to purify the water.

In addition to helping the kids, the project gives the students a chance to put their engineering skills to work in a real-world situation.

The students need additional funding for travel and supplies. If you’re interested, please contact Sean Corcoran at 617-671-8382 or e-mail him at unfghanaproject@gmail.com.

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