April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Q&A: Water sources and purification

Bill asked another question as well, about water sources and purification. Yet again, a topic very close to some of our tasking, as the islanders are very interested in watershed reforestation and source protection.

Much of Panamá, including our training site, runs off an aquaducto system, which is a series of PVC pipes serving all the houses in a community, coming from a big tank somewhere higher up, which in turn is fed by a PVC pipe from a quebrada (stream), fuente de agua (water source), or ojo de agua (spring) even higher up. Here on the island, as you can imagine, there isn´t too much room for that "higher up", and as spread out as the houses are, there are numerous separate aquaducto systems and associated sources. (In our current host house, this has led to the water not quite having enough pressure to reach the house, and so we have a pluma - spigot - in the yard about 25 feet from the house, and haul water for cooking and cleaning dishes, and do bucket showers and laundry there in the yard.)

As for cleaning the water, well, supposedly you cholorinate the system regularly or give it a thorough cleaning every three months or so, but of course nobody pays for the water (generally the gov´t set up the aquaducts at some point in the past, but there is no Water Maintenance office) so there is nobody to do that sort of preventive maintenance. But, being on an island, as I said there isn´t much room for the streams to run before they are tapped, and we´ve been drinking water at our host houses and at houses as we pasear (walk around and chat) and haven´t gotten sick yet.

However, there are pastures above some of the sources, so the chance does exist. And apparently in the summer months (mid-December to April), when it is hotter and there isn´t rain, they sometimes run out (more often the houses farther from the sources or on higher ground) during the day. Both of these issues we hope to address while here with protection of watersheds and reforestation, as well as possibly talks about maintenance (preventing leaks) and conservation of water. (Yes, it is hard to believe as I listen to the past 45 minutes of heavy rain, but there are times here in Panamá that are dry and they actually run out of water. More on that in the future, when we encounter it, I´m sure. :)

Again, thanks for the questions and feel free to post more or ask for clarification.

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