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.