Final Report: Sustainable Agriculture for the Water Catchment Protection Area in Ntisaw, Cameroon

EPA Grant Number: SU834778
Title: Sustainable Agriculture for the Water Catchment Protection Area in Ntisaw, Cameroon
Investigators: MariƱas, Benito J. , Gall, Aimee , Litchfield, Bruce , Long, Kenneth , Rehn, Andrew , Straub, Anthony
Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2010 through August 14, 2011
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Agriculture , P3 Challenge Area - Water , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Only 39% of the rural population of Cameroon has access to drinking water. The village of Ntisaw in the Northwest Province is one of the many in Cameroon where people suffer from the lack of potable drinking water. Water borne illnesses such as dysentery, cholera, and typhoid are prevalent due to polluted drinking water, poor sanitation facilities, and lack of proper hygienic practices.

Currently, the villagers of Ntisaw walk 1-2 km daily to nearby streams and springs to collect water for basic tasks. All water sources that are presently used by the village are contaminated with Escherichia coli (E. coli). Ntisaw, recognizing the importance of clean water, initiated a village water project in 1994 to construct two spring boxes located approximately 1700 meters from the village center (2200 meters along the main road). The community collected money from each household, hired a local engineer, and successfully constructed one spring box. According to the community, the local engineer then abandoned the project, taking the remaining funds raised by the village with him. As a result, the second spring box was never completed.

The student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign adopted the project in Fall 2008 and traveled to the community for site assessments in May 2009 and January 2010 as part of the newly formed Ntisaw Village Water Partnership (NVWP). Upon returning to campus, designs for a gravity-fed water distribution system were developed.

However, Ntisaw experiences distinct dry and monsoon seasons. This presents a problem in the height of the dry season when the water table level falls below the inlet of the spring box and no longer is able to provide water to the village. To counter this, an interceptor drain system is being investigated to supplement the spring box during this critical time of the year. Two models have been constructed, and a pilot system installed in Ntisaw. In the coming year, further studies will be conducted on bacteria filtration rates as a function of drain depth.

During the fall semester of 2010, the project developed two distinct objectives: completing a primary system design, and developing a rigorous set of experiments and test setups to accurately determine the best course of action for source supplementation. These two components were developed through the semester and deployed during the January 2011 Implementation trip. A series of 32 monitoring wells were installed to measure the subsurface hydrology, and a pilot system was completed to test the feasibility, safety, and risks associated with a supplementary drainage system.

Throughout the course of this project, the lives of over 100 students who have actively participated on it have been directly impacted. Composed of students from almost every discipline of engineering on campus, the NVWP has successfully moved beyond a simple water supply project in a village to an arena for cross-disciplinary cooperation and interaction. Students gain knowledge on technical material that they might otherwise never receive, and gain hands-on experience years before they enter the workforce.

The NVWP provides more than just technical education though. As an entirely student-led project, the success of the group necessitates strong leadership, devout organization, logistical planning, and communication that can successfully coordinate students, faculty, administration, professionals, suppliers, NGO’s and a community that is over 6,000 miles away. These skills are not easily acquired through any method except experience, something that this project is able to offer.

The primary objective of the Ntisaw Village Water Partnership is to distribute clean, protected groundwater from a spring near Ntisaw to the community. This will both improve the health of the villagers and relieve the burden of local women and children from having to fetch water.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

During the Phase I proposal period, the following tasks were accomplished in the village:

  1. Catchment protection:
    The first step in protecting the village’s water source was to erect a dead fence composed of eucalyptus planks and barbed wire around the watershed to prevent cattle from grazing within the area. With time, this fence will begin to decompose and the water source will once again be placed in jeopardy. Therefore a “live” fence (composed of living, thorny trees) will be planted immediately within the perimeter of the dead fence to ultimately replace it for a more sustainable solution to watershed protection. Additionally a nursery was built to prepare for planting Erythirina tree, Sisal Hemp, and Acacia trees as this live fence. Beginning this rainy season (mid-May), plants will be grown in the nursery and after two years maturation, will be ready for transplantation to the catchment. To maintain the integrity of the fence line and prevent other plants from competing with the ones for the live fence, fire tracing will take place along its entirety. Controlled burning was chosen since it is already a common practice in the village.
  2. Primary water system:
    During Phase I, over 6.5 km of pipeline was laid from the spring box through the five tanks to the 14 tap stands dispersed amongst the community. Four stone tanks were constructed and a fifth plastic one was installed. To provide access to the water system, fourteen public tap stands were built and community gardens planted at the overflows to provide an additional food source for the village. To ensure sustainability of the system, a community-wide tax system was implemented.
  3. Secondary water system:
    The current spring box is not adequate. In the height of the dry season, the water table level drops below the inlet of the spring box causing it to run dry. A secondary water system is necessary to provide clean, potable water throughout the duration of the year. The solution that is currently being investigated is a network of interceptor drains. To assess the feasibility of an interceptor drain system in Ntisaw, a 33 meter pilot system was installed in the catchment area for proof-of-concept based on actual soil conditions to be tested over the next year.
  4. Community forest:
    Sustainable forestry is one option that the project has investigated thoroughly, and that the village is considering for income generation. During Phase I, a proposed future site was chosen and initial land ownership issues were addressed such that planting P. africana saplings could begin at the beginning of the 2011 rainy season. The final decision on the timeline of this component of the system is currently under review by the village’s Water Committee and the community as a whole.
  5. Educational programs:
    Long-term system sustainability will be achieved through the establishment of a maintenance team responsible for understanding each system component. This team was selected by the village Water Committee and will be compensated for their time by taxes collected in amounts agreed upon by each household in the village. Manuals composed almost entirely of pictures will be left with the team that depict proper cleaning methods, troubleshooting techniques, and procedures for making basic ystem repairs. Health and hygiene manuals were prepared for teachers at the two local schools. Adult manuals addressing such issues as keeping water clean from the tap stand to the home and proper hand-washing skills were disseminated.

Concurrently, the following efforts were made at UIUC:

  1. Field research:
    In order to determine the feasibility of an interceptor drain system for source supplementation, a small-scale model was installed on research farms at the University of Illinois for initial studies. These tests were used to design the Lab research.
  2. Lab research:
    A second interceptor drain model was built in a laboratory to study filtration rates of E.coli. Initial results showed a 2-log10 removal rate. This rate was based solely on depth and compaction of dirt, at a depth less than half of the in-country model.
  3. Education of undergraduate students:
    The 30+ current active members have received invaluable training on making presentations, writing proposals, and working in laboratory settings. More importantly, students have learned the importance of collaborating with other students, faculty, institutions, companies, and NGO’s to see the successful implementation of a project.


The goals of Phase I were to integrate research with sustainable designs easily implementable by rural communities in NW Cameroon to improve health and increase economic activity. When measured by these metrics, Phase I of our project has been a success.

The primary water system comprised of 6.5 km of pipeline, 5 tanks, and 14 tap stands was completed. Training of the maintenance team is underway and will continue throughout the year. Local masons have become experts on tank construction and will have the ability to expand this practice to nearby villages. Research has continued in search of a feasible solution for source supplementation during the height of the dry season. Laboratory and field models were constructed for initial testing of interceptor drains, and a pilot system was installed in the catchment area of the village. Catchment protection has become a community priority and the water source is no longer facing serious contamination issues from wandering animals. Finally, our team is raising awareness of the importance of clean water and the different struggles present in the developing world in the undergraduate population, local community, and regional and national arenas.

Supplemental Keywords:

Interceptor drain, monitoring well, water catchment protection, sustainable forestry, Prunus africana, human health, bacterial removal, gravity-based water supply

Relevant Websites:

Ntisaw Village Water Project (NVWP) Exit