Roger, Santo (smiling) and Nelson

Roger, Santo (smiling) and Nelson

Meet my new friend Roger Rios. After working for several years with a Dutch water project here in Nicaragua he started his own business digging wells using fairly simple technology. His mission is to offer affordable wells to rural households, using technology that is effective and doesn´t damage the surrounding environment. Instead of using large machinery and digging a well with a three foot diameter like most of the older wells still in use, he can put all his machinery in a pick up truck, and the final product is a four inch diameter pvc well with a sand filter at the bottom. He invited me to join him the first day digging a new well at a hacienda about two hours south of here.

Roger employs three workers, who have been working for him for two years now.  They are a tight team, and assembled the tripod and got to work quickly.  The whole process costs the family $40 a meter, plus housing for the workers for the week.  Depending on the zone, they could dig 60 meters before reaching water.  And since their equipment is basic and cannot break through solid rock, it is never guaranteed that they will be able to reach water, so they require a 25% guarantee up front.  That´s a hefty investment for many families, but given that the competition charges on average $120 per meter, he has done fairly well his  first two years.  Luckily many parts of this zone are pure volcanic sand and clay with very little rock, and they have been mostly successful.

The hand made drill that Roger has designed and made.  The drill tip is connected to the heavy tubes.  Gravity provides the downward force, and Santo the torque.

The hand made drill that Roger has designed and made. The drill tip is connected to the heavy tubes. Gravity provides the downward force, and Santo the torque.

Digging one 40 meter well a month would keep Roger´s business afloat.  His workers have agricultural work to fall back on when they aren´t working for him.  Additionally, Roger also offers to install one of several kinds of pumps (one is a bicycle pump!) which he hand constructs in a makeshift welding shop at his house, and small scale drip irrigation.  Still, the first two years have been a struggle.  Roger is still refining his systems, and hoping to be able to purchase equipment that is readily available in the states, but prohibitively expensive here.

Even more than the appropriate technology and affordability, what excites me about this project is Roger´s attitude.  While chatting on the way back to León, Roger told me that after getting his degree in agronomy he was drawn to the well business by the impending water crisis.  “Between companies comercializing water, contamination, and a changing climate we are going to have problems,” he told me.  “People in the city are going to pay alot for water in the future.  But in the country if they have good wells they will be better off.  That´s why I am trying hard to do this and keep the cost down to make it affordable to as many people as I can.”

Viva environmental justice  and long term vision!

Water is the medium to extract soil from the well.  The motor assists Nelson in raising the tube with the drill bit, and when he let the rope slack the hollow tube drops, spraying out mud.  Santo then uses the attached handle to turn the pipe 90 degrees, and the process is repeated.

Water is the medium to extract soil from the well. The motor assists Nelson in raising the tube with the drill bit, and when he let the rope slack the hollow tube drops, spraying out mud. Santo then uses the attached handle to turn the pipe 90 degrees, and the process is repeated.

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