Water Treatment and Distribution in Isla Montecristo, El Salvador

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Isla Montecristo, El Salvador
Install a well, pump, and piping
Provide a source of fresh drinking water for the community

Montecristo is a community of approximately thirty families who make their living fishing the nearby waters and growing cashews. The community at one point had a functioning well and water system, but inability to maintain a complicated system and saline intrusion caused it to fall into disuse. While the community uses the salty water for things like dishes, washing clothes, and bathing, Montecristo currently brings in its drinking water from another community by boat. Each household uses only four or five gallons a day, but this is still not a sustainable practice. Our objective was to locate a source of drinking water and install a suitable water system for the community.

We needed to find an area not inundated at high tide and not subject to salt water intrusion. That site turned out to be in a cashew orchard about a mile southeast of the community.  A trail leading from the community to the orchard winds through mangrove forests and is flooded by the tide at various points throughout the day, making for muddy, mosquito-filled hikes to and from the site. Still, we had found a source of fresh water within Montecristo, which is only accessible by boat.

Our first major trips to Montecristo were largely information-gathering and planning trips, and a lot of time was spent discussing the project with community members. We also found out that behind the community center where we stayed while traveling were six solar panels, which had sat unused for about ten years. One of our members, an electrical engineer, did some calculations and figured out the panels would work to power the pump we planned to install in Montecristo, which was a much better option than a battery or generator due to the climate and flooding. 

When we traveled again, our main task was disassembling, transporting, and reassembling the solar panels. Disassembly included making the panels usable again by cleaning them. The panels were incredibly dirty with ten years of baked-on dust and grime, so we ended up cleaning them by scraping off the layers of dirt with a razor blade. It was tedious, but it improved the output by around ten percent. The panels could operate at a maximum of 21 volts, and this brought them up to 19 - not bad for ten-year-old solar panels. Once cleaned, we had to carry them (carefully) out to the site.

The solar panels were not the only focus of the trip. The plan was to hook them up to a solar powered pump, which needed to be set up and wired as well. We also completed a survey of the site. Between the manual labor, electrical engineering, civil engineering, environmental engineering, and surveying, there were plenty of things to do on the site. By the end of the week, we had the panels were assembled, the pump installed, and the controls wired.

Montecristo community members have the knowledge and materials needed to install the well and begin laying pipe. The pipe will run along the trail, which means manually trenching about a mile of pipe! Until we are able to return, we will continue supporting the community's work on the project through fundraising and remote communication.

Montecristo Update - March 2020

Although our chapter has not been able to travel to Montecristo, progress is still being made on the well and water distribution project. Enough pipe has been installed to reach the edge of the community, and as of March 2020, the community is using water from the well!


The first video is taken at the well site, which is in a cashew orchard about a mile away from the community. Here is a rough translation:

Shows pump working and walks along the pipe.

"Hello friends from Engineers Without Borders. Now I’m making this video to be able to announce that we are taking water from the pump to consume in the community. In light of the situation with COVID-19, we’ve decided to put the system to use."

"I’m going to take a look."

Opens lid of tank

Turns on and off faucet

"Here what we have made is in this part of this little table we put a pump, which takes water from this tube to send that way to the community, to Montecristo."


The second video picks up at the edge of the community. The rough translation is below:

"Here, continuing with the tour, we can see the tubing going to the community there."

Continues walking

"Now we're arriving, it's been a long trip for the water to arrive here to the island community. The water is sent here by a pump."

Walks through branches

"To where we have a tank. The water arrives inside the tank, and later here we have looks at bottom spout to distribute it."

Looks out at residences

"Now we're pretty close to the community, but we still haven't achieved connecting it to the communal center because we still don't have the remainder of the pipes. But we're close enough to the community. So for the moment we are consuming the water from the wellI want you to send this video, Chema, to Mike and the team, that after a month we're consuming water."

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Recent Blog Posts

A summary of the group's last full day in El Salvador until May.
Another successful day at Isla Montecristo!
The happenings on Day 2 of the February trip to El Salvador.
Travel and arrival on the first day of February's El Salvador trip.

Our Next Destination

In 2018, members from our chapter traveled to the Bay of Jiquilisco area in El Salvador to work on safe water projects for the Mangrove Association. We plan to return to the area and continue our projects in 2021.