Launching its first project since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Caltech's chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is now designing an improved water supply system for Tandacato, a rural village of about 2,100 people located near Cotopaxi, an active volcano in Ecuador.
Founded in 2012 by Sarah Wright (BS '13), EWB-Caltech is a chapter of Engineers Without Borders USA, a nongovernmental organization that designs and implements sustainable engineering projects in underserved communities. EWB-Caltech's previous project, which was initiated in 2013 and completed final evaluation in 2019, involved designing and implementing a spring water source in Ilam, Nepal. That project provided a reliable source of clean water for more than 100 households and sparked interest for a new water supply project post-COVID.
"Our chapter has successfully completed a water supply project in the past and also successfully received approval for a water supply project before it got canceled by COVID," says third-year undergraduate and EWB-Caltech co-president Sravani Boggaram, "so we felt most comfortable with continuing with a new water supply project."
Tandacato's previous water supply system was damaged by landslides and heavy rainfall, making access to safe and clean water unreliable. As part of this EWB project, Caltech undergraduates will assess the existing water system and propose a new design to make the village's water catchment larger and more resilient. Once the design is vetted and approved by EWB headquarters, the construction and labor will be carried out by members of the local community in Ecuador.
"This is a very unique project because it's not just a matter of building a water system on its own," says fellow third-year undergraduate and EWB-Caltech co-president Riya Shrivastava. "We must also consider factors like ash mitigation, landslides, mudslides, and earthquakes. It's an all-around science and engineering project."
In addition to working with Wilmer Santacruz, an on-site engineer in Ecuador, and engineers at the EWB headquarters in Colorado, EWB-Caltech will also receive mentorship from Patrick Stahl, an environmental engineer at Stantec in Pasadena. "We have a mentor who has a lot of experience in this field and can help guide us," says Shrivastava. With this support system in place, EWB-Caltech will visit Ecuador in May and then start designing a new water system throughout the spring term and into the summer.
"If you're interested in engineering, then joining this club is a great opportunity to get a hands-on application of class material," says Shrivastava. "You'll have a chance to get involved in a full-scale engineering project from top to bottom."
Although EWB-Caltech has a focus on engineering, there are a variety of open roles from writing and making presentations to project management and design. Additionally, members of EWB-Caltech will have a chance to get involved with fundraising to help fuel the project and deliver an engineering solution to help improve the quality of life for the people of Tandacato.
"Engineers Without Borders is a very unique style of engineering where you get to see the direct social impact and you meet the very people that you will be helping," says Boggaram. "Whether it's bringing a water supply system, building a school, or bringing electricity to a community, you get to see that engineering has the capability to directly improve lives."
EWB-Caltech meets every Monday from 8–9 p.m. in Annenberg 121, and club meetings are open to all Caltech undergraduates. For those interested in supporting the project or getting involved, reach out to [email protected].
Visit the Caltech-EWB website to learn more.