Last year I went to Chyangba, Nepal, my Sherpa's village in a very remote section of Nepal and helped build a library for the local school. I was part of a charity effort and we raised a lot of money, a good portion from the Microsoft .NET Community. I’ll be headed back to Nepal this September and will help start a new drive to raise money for a new school building.
While we were in Chyangba, Engineers without Borders started a water project. An engineer from the US, Jim, arrived and started working on bringing running water to the 60 homes in Chyangba. This is a big deal since the common water tank usually has poor water. Well, 7 months later, the project is a success. Below is the full report from Jim the engineer.
Water is coming
We've had the system running off and on for about 10 days, but now it is completely online and serving all 56 houses. It is also set up to serve two more houses that will be built in the coming months. The people seem very happy and some of the older women especially are grateful to have taps in their houses. I have a lot of kahtahs. I'm in Kathmandu. I arrived yesterday and leave in two days for the US.
All in all it seems to be working remarkably well. I didn't get to measure the flow rate at every house, but the houses get 1 L between 7 and 13 seconds depending on their location relative to the tank that serves them. It's a pretty good flow rate. As Phula so eloquently puts it, "the people are really satisfaction with the water."
Boring Engineering Notes
There were a few bugs that we had to work through.
1. The pipeline from the intake to the reservoir was having low flow issues. At times we were only getting .4 LPS down to the reservoir when we would measure 1 LPS or more at the intake. Installing a control valve on the tank inlet and closing the air vent at the intake appears to have solved he problem. I think the pipe was not flowing full and that caused the water to slow down when coming through some u-profiles. Blowing into the air vent pipe at the intake would cause the pipeline to flow anywhere from 1.5 to 2 LPS for half an hour to 2 hours, but then the flow would drop to .4 LPS. With the control valve, were are getting .83 LPS into the reservoir, which is enough water. I measured the flow over 48 hours and it stayed constant. I've been talking to Phula every day since I left the village he said the water is still coming the same.
2. The pipeline from the reservoir to PB B1 does not flow well unless the tank is full. First we were able to fix the problem by adjusting control valves to PB A1 and B1 to keep the tank full, but today Phula installed float valves in the three tanks in Community A and he said that works much better. He said that keeps the tanks in Community B mostly full, which is good.
3. We had a blocked pipe on one of the house lines--it ended up being easy to find because it was before the first tee and the first tee was close to the PB. We never found out what the block exactly was--I presume it was mud because dirty water came through the pipe we dug up and disconnected. After rejoining it, the water was working fine. We have had only tarps covering the PBs as we've been playing with valves and checking flows at all the tanks. The roofs are too heavy to be moving on and off several times per day. That allowed some dirt to get into the tanks, which is what must have caused the block.
4. Phula is currently cleaning all the tanks and putting the roofs on, but it will take a few days. We had built a rim around the water tank at each PB for the roof to fit into, but we have had some tolerancing issues--some of the roofs don't fit inside the rim because the corners aren't perfectly square, despite multiple measurements a few inches of safety margin. The rims will have to be chipped slightly and then replastered. It is really only a cosmetic issue; I liked the idea of rims to help keep dirt from sneaking in under small spaces between the roof slab and the top of the water tank, but it is difficult to do things with much precision here, at least with these masons. The masons have generally refused to use levels, claiming they could eyeball it. Some of the tops of the tanks are little sloped or uneven, and the roof does not fit snugly. For now I think putting a tarp under the roof will be sufficient, but it is a repair job that we should address in the future.
5. There are seven houses that are sometime affected by a weird air block. If the tank above them is drain and then refilled, water won't flow to the houses. However, the problem is an easy fix--the houses take their pipe outside, open the tap, and once the water comes, close the tap and put it back into the house. The pipes enter the houses by climbing up the outside stone wall, through a hole in the rafters, and then back into the kitchen. The people seem to prefer this to tunnelling to the mud and stone walls or foundations. The seven houses are the five houses in Community C, one house in Community A, and one house in Community B. The house in Community A is probably not far enough below the tank that serves it. At only 7 meters of elevation difference, it's right at the limit of the design recommendations. The water level in the tank adds about 80 cm of head. However, the water flows well once the pipeline has been reset--that house gets 1 L in 13 seconds. The house in Community B is served by an HDP pipe PB and is 12 meters below it. The pipe tanks are small and they don't add much head to the outflow, but the pipe into that house also climbs steeply up into the house. The five houses in Community C are more of a mystery to me: blowing into the air vent at the PB C1 outlet or taking the pipe outside and opening the tap fixes the problem. PB C1 is small and only adds about 40 cm of head to the outflow, but the pipes in Community C climb straight up two meters into the top floor of the houses, which is more than in most places. All of the houses are between 23 and 29 meters below the tank, which seems like it should be more than enough to force the air out of the pipeline. However, all of the houses are affected simultaneously--it makes me wonder if there is some air block before the first tee. There is a small U-profile of 115 cm, which seems like it should be insignificant as it occurs 9 meters below the tank, but maybe because the water level in the tank is relatively short it makes a big difference. None of the houses get this problem when we leave the water running continuously, which we only did the last 48 hours I was in Chyangba. I will continue to check in with Phula about it, but he has not reported any more problems. In this case, I don't fear not hearing about problems due to the Sherpa cultural taboo on disappointing a guest; the villagers have not hesitated in the past to tell me--sometimes quite rudely--that their water was not coming.
Work Left to be Done
Right now, Phula is working on some tasks like building a fence at the reservoir and at the intake; cleaning all the tanks and putting on the roofs and making sure they fit; organizing and cleaning the tools; and backfilling the partially buried joining and tee areas (which not filled in to see if there any leaks once we got water running). He thinks he will be finished in one week. I left him with a specific list and I have a copy of it; he signed an MOU stating that he will email pictures for me to review before he will be paid by Pem. I get the sense that he is doing a good job with it. He does have some pride in the work he has done, but I think he doesn't express it when I am around because he focuses on trying to guilt trip me into getting him either more money from EWB or a visa to USA. It's annoying and disappointing, but it's part of this game. At least he does the work.
Due to the troubleshooting, I did not have time to survey Sishakhola. I think an adequate survey time would be three of four days, and I didn't have the time. It was more important to me to get Chyangba's system working well enough to where I felt comfortable leaving it with the village and Phula. I know that may disappoint some of you and I know I said I would make the time for it, but respect that I have worked every day for 7 months straight in considerably frustrating conditions. We really need to see how well Chyangba's system works in the long run before we start on Sishakhola and an inadequate survey would only create the same problems for Charlie that I had. Additionally, surveying is more than measuring; when you do it, the people expect you to come back and build it the system. I don't know what is going on with money and commitments at home and I am certainly not ready to make a commitment to Sishakhola myself. Speaking of you Charlie, I really think you should come for a short visit first, see the village, and know what you are getting into before you spend 3-4 months here. You will benefit a lot from what I have learned and that will make it easier for you than it was for me, but this work is difficult.
Trip in the Fall and the Training Course
I think a trip in the fall is still very important to check on the Chyangba system and making sure it is being used properly and the people are taking care of it. Phula and I did a one day training course the day before I left; the people impressed me with how quickly they learned, how handy they are, and that they have the patience to fiddle with valves and pipe wrenches. They can be incredibly creative and come up with simple and effective solutions with limited resources--they made tweezers out of bamboos to clean the tap drains, for example. While the villagers and those on the training course seem like they know how to do everything to take care of the system, I worry that they don't understand why they must care for it. They complain a lot about their old government system--that there wasn't enough cement used or that is was a "Nepali project"--but the reality is that system worked surprisingly well, and got away with fewer and smaller PBs. Had the pipe been adequately buried, it would probably be still functioning. The real problem is that the people in Chyangba never took any responsibility or leadership for trying to fix the old system. They could have easily remade roofs for the PBs from relatively inexpensive local materials like slate and wood--concrete is not always necessary. They could also have made fences from local wood around the PBs to protect them. What they had before was good enough that they could live with it--there was no motivation among the villagers to try to improve it. That's what worries me about the future of this system--their lack of motivation, not lack of knowledge, skills, or resources. I hope that between 40 days of labor from each house and 500 rupees from every house, they will value their own efforts and money and will want to take care of it. I wish I had more time to spend on the training course, but I had to spend the time to fix the bugs in the system. Phula will create a new water council from the training course members that has several women and fewer monkey brains--it will be important to keep working with them in the future.
A trip in the fall could focus on reviewing the training course and maintenance requirements and surveying Sishakhola. A bigger intake and a collection chamber would capture more water and would make the flow to reservoir greater and will probably be necessary if Chyangba's spring serves Sishakhola; that could also be done in the fall. As I keep in touch with Phula and learn more about how the system works, it may be that float valves everywhere would make it better. If that were the case, we would need to build 5 more PBs in the fall. I'm hoping that won't be necessary.