Now that we’ve discussed some key factors in addressing water needs with a community, let’s talk about the common type of water systems we see worldwide. Each of these are good options depending upon the local situation and traditional practices.
1. Spring development/gravity flow systems
Many communities locate close to a free-flowing spring where they get their water. Water coming out of the ground is (in most cases) good drinking water because it is filtered by the earth. However, spring water sources may need to be closed off and protected from outside pollutants such as animal and human contamination. A good source or “eye” can be sealed with a cement spring box, hollow block walls, metal/fiberglass containers, and more. After these systems are closed off and protected, we usually install an outlet for collection at the “box” or pipe the water to a distribution point closer to the target community. If the community is lower in elevation than the spring, gravity and pipes can do the delivery work with no external source of power. These systems are usually cheap, effective, and efficient. A word of warning: we do need to provide ways to test the quality of the water trapped in a spring system to ensure that it is safe for human consumption.
Digging or drilling wells is another common way to help people get water. They can be shallow or deep depending on the water table level in a given area. They can be easy to dig (in soft, non-rocky soil) or hard (rocky strata). They can be hand dug with shovels and local tools, an auger type tool, or simple homemade impact type tools. They can be machine dug as well.
Rarely can a well be free flowing such as an artesian well. In most cases, some type of pump is needed to bring the water from the depths of the well to the surface. Obviously, the deeper the water table, the more power needed to bring the water up.
Pumps are common all around the world and work with manual/human exertion. There are a variety of types ranging from the simple, most common hand pumps to rope pumps (rotation by hand), treadle pumps (pumping power from feet), to literally a score of others.
If the water table is deeper than 50 feet, most wells will need a pump that has some type of external power source. These can be gasoline, diesel, or electrically driven pumps. There are “pull” type pumps- ones that “pull” the water up- but the more common deep well pumps are “push” type pumps which “push” the water up. Generally, it is easier to push water than to pull it. Most “push” type pumps are lowered into the water at the bottom of a well and are usually called submersible pumps. In theory, the deeper the water to be extracted, the stronger the pump needed and energy to be exerted to move the water.
3. Water collection systems
An often overlooked way to obtain water are water collection systems. These can be collecting rainfall off roofs of homes/buildings, channeling the water to a storage container/system, and using that water. The volume and availability will depend naturally upon rainfall amount and frequency. Rainfall water can solve the problem of heavy metals such as arsenic in groundwater as well as other contaminants such as those from agriculture practices. However, rainwater oftentimes needs some type of treatment (filtering, purifying, or a combo) to make it safe for drinking. Animal feces (birds, rats, frogs, etc.) commonly make their way into these systems and can be bearers of diseases.
Other ways to collect water is diversion of surface water (streams/creeks) or collection of rainwater in ponds or tanks. The same problems listed above of amount, availability, and suitability for drinking need to be considered.
4. Mechanical Systems
Pumps directly located into or near a source of water can be “pumped” to a community to help solve their water problems. There are non-energy consuming pumps such as hydraulic-ram pumps but they only work in special situations. Externally powered pumps (fossil fuel based or electrical) can be used. Water quality needs to be addressed in these types of water systems.
Maybe you can think of other ways or have other experiences that you would like to share- write them in the comments below!