Giving Back: Aiding Access to Clean Water in the San Juan Tlacotenco Community

Jan 10, 2017 11:00 AM ET

Giving Back: Aiding Access to Clean Water in the San Juan Tlacotenco Community

According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation, at least 1.8 billion people around the world drink contaminated water, and an even greater number drink water delivered through unsanitary systems. With a significant presence of employees in San Juan Tlacotenco, a community near Cuernavaca, Mexico, Baxter identified the lack of a stable and safe water supply as an opportunity to help.

Pinpointing Community Needs

Previously, water for the community’s schools was supplied from the bottom of the mountain and taken up to the schools in San Juan Tlacotenco via trucks. The schools received 10,000 liters of water per week in this manner, which was costly and insufficient for the students. Furthermore, the water wasn’t clean and the students often experienced a myriad of health issues. Additionally, the community saw a continuing cost increase in order to transfer the water from the mountains to the schools and community members had to buy a bottle whenever they needed water.

In order to fully understand the environmental situation, several water sanitation and health (WASH) assessments were held with focus groups and the school’s parent committees. In addition, nine community workshops were held in order to explore and raise awareness around the current involvement of WASH, as well as the community’s future vision of the territory. 

The Baxter facility in Cuernavaca, in partnership with Sarar Transformación (Sarar-T) – a consulting firm focused on sustainable decentralized water and sanitation systems –, identified a range of projects designed to resolve critical water and sanitation issues by developing a watershed-focused model through:

  • School infrastructure improvements
  • The development of a participatory education program
  • The development of a community water, sanitation and environmental health plan

As a solution to the severe water constraints of the community, the team created a system to collect rainwater, which would be filtered through portable water tanks. As a result, students now have access to clean water for free.

Improved Water Quality & Use

In the preschool, the kitchen lacked an adequate food preparation area and a sink that properly treated and recycled the water for irrigation. Before the renovation, greywater was directly discharged into the environment and dumped into a ravine, causing pollution. However, by developing a new greywater treatment system, the water is able to be recycled and reused through a bio-filter for irrigation in school gardens and planted trees around the school community.

The dining area also lacked a hand-washing station for children to clean up before meals. As a result, two hand-washing stations, which included water lines and greywater recycling, were installed for the dining area in an effort to promote good sanitation habits for both students and staff. As part of this implementation, several global hand-washing day activities were initiated, including a theatrical presentation, hand-washing demos and a display of art projects made by students following the presentation.

“The ‘World Day of Hand Washing’ we organized is an international celebration where the entire school community in San Juan Tlacotenco was engaged,” Griselda, a kindergarten teacher in San Juan Tlacotenco, said. “It’s important to teach children these habits. In this community, children know how to preserve water and take advantage of it, but it’s essential they have a culture of good hygiene where they can take that knowledge and share it with their families.”

The water lines were also set up to run through the kitchen, providing ample water for food preparation and dishwashing. The water is supplied from new rainwater gutters that deposit water into the first-flush system and drains into existing tanks. The area around this was levelled off to alleviate safety concerns.

In addition, a drinking fountain was implemented, incorporating a double filtration system that retains suspended solids. The liquid then passes through the ultraviolet light disinfection system for final purification. The aim of installing the fountain was to decrease or eliminate the use of disposable water bottles by students and provide water to children to avoid dehydration.

In the Cultural & SJT Community Center, recently transformed from the old elementary school, a rainwater harvesting filter system was installed and channeled to the existing reservoir on site. To do this, the team realigned the slope of the existing rain gutters to direct rainwater into the new first-flush filtering systems. The filtered water at the Center provides benefits for the entire community.

Lastly, in evaluating the middle school, the building’s water piping was upgraded, drinking water stations and a greywater treatment system for the kitchen were implemented, and a permanent installation for the existing water pump was provided.

“Beyond being a platform for this change, we’ve really taken responsibility of this project, as it affects our day-to-day at the schools through activities like handwashing and fixing food,” Angelica Cortés, director of the elementary school, said. “We are all committed to transforming our school’s sustainability to improve our town and I’m positive the entire community will continue to benefit from our schools’ clean water and hygiene education.”

Delivering Results

A rainwater harvesting system was installed in both the new elementary school and the middle school. According to data from the Meteorological National Service of SJT Climatological Constants, the project will satisfy between 30 and 71 percent of the yearly water consumption. When considering different options to store the pre-filtered rainwater, a first-flush system was selected called Tlaloque. The device captures rain that comes in contact with a dirty roof and separates 70 percent of the contaminants, such as sediments and bacteria, and automatically flushes it.

By collecting and using rainwater in this manner, the community has significantly reduced its environmental footprint:

  • 80 water tanks (800,000 liters) will no longer have to be extracted from the 130 meter deep aquifer of the Tepoztlán Valley, saving a substantial amount of water and energy
  • 972 liters of diesel from the delivery trucks, representing $13,500 pesos ($802 US dollars) will no longer be required to deliver water
  • 320 hours of truck driver labor and related salary will be saved due to the reduction in necessary water truck deliveries

As a result of the project and nearly $58,000 in funding, the community now has a guaranteed water supply for all uses, from drinking to hand washing, during the rainy season. The community is not only experiencing significant cost and energy savings as a result of the on-site water treatment systems, but students are being consistently educated on healthier behaviors and the importance of water conservation.