A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
Sept 16, 2010 Volume 41 / Number 1

For a slideshow of SEEHD's three weeks in Honduras,
Photo: the Tela crew

Water for Honduras

“What’s easy for us is hard for many of Hondurans,” said Lisa Hall, a senior civil engineering student, about some of the things she learned from her travels to Honduras this summer.

Hall traveled to Honduras for three weeks at the end of July with Dr. Stewart Oakley, Civil Engineering. Oakley, an expert in wastewater treatment systems, has consulted in Central America for more than 20 years. Joining them were civil engineering student Krystle Galindo and Kimberly Carmody, a nurse studying environmental health,

The students are part of Sustainable Engineering and Environmental Health for Development (SEEHD). Hall is the president of the student group that takes on engineering projects that will benefit people in developing countries.

“The purpose of SEEHD is to raise awareness about the overlap in environmental health and environmental engineering,” said Hall. “We work on projects together that can be taken to Honduras. We also spend time fundraising.”

The group attended a conference organized by Oakley at the Universidad Politecnica de Ingenieria (UPI) in Tegucigalpa for local engineers, municipal employees, and water-treatment plant employees to learn about effective means of wastewater treatment. The conference, held entirely in Spanish, was both a challenge for the students and a rich source of knowledge about the engineering, chemistry, biology, and design procedures for wastewater treatment systems.

The group traveled to Tela, on the Caribbean coast, to visit a natural wastewater lagoon system that SEEHD students had designed and implemented over the past few years. “The project was great—still working well, which is always good to see,” said Hall. “The problem with doing projects in another country is that we leave and aren’t able to maintain them. The municipality had really embraced this project and had two workers assigned to its maintenance.”

The group visited a drinking-water facility where the technology wasn’t right for the area. Their role was to look for possible solutions. “Our focus is on sustainable development,” said Hall “and incorporating appropriate technology. Often, the technology that works well in the U.S. and other developed countries is too high-tech.”

In this case, said Hall, the project used high-cost electricity that was delivered erratically. Since the system wasn’t functioning, the workers were chlorinating dirty river water and sending it back to the people.

The main project the group brought home from Honduras to work on in Oakley’s upper division course Natural Wastewater Systems was a broken sewer line in Villa Nueva. “We are currently re-designing the waste-water system in the class,” said Hall. “Our results will be our technical advice for the redesign; we will provide cost estimates and specifications for a new lagoon.”

This is the second year Hall has made the trip to Honduras. Last year, the group met with students from UPI to discuss water issues in Honduras. They worked on a design for a medical facility and for a washing station for people who live and work on a landfill. (The people who live there are recyclers and sort through garbage.)

As much as they learned about water treatment systems, the group learned more about the culture and people of Honduras. “As a result of the trips,” said Hall, “one of the most important realizations for me has been that women in the United States have much more access to education and to professional training, and I appreciate that. Since it is so much easier for us to get an education than it is for them, it seems that we should use that for the betterment of others.”

SEEHD has received money from the Instructionally Related Activities program at CSU, Chico to fund their work and their trips. They have also obtained some grant money, and  the municipalities they serve also take on some of the costs.

Kathleen McPartland, Public Affairs and Publications