Final Report: Community-Scale Water Treatment System for Application in Developing Countries

EPA Grant Number: SU835345
Title: Community-Scale Water Treatment System for Application in Developing Countries
Investigators: Blatchley III, Ernest R , Applegate, Bruce M. , Barrett, Emily , Berry, Stuart , Camp, Kevin , Caporaso, Philip , Dyer, Kelly , Foster, Kenneth A , Fouty, Madison , Kanach, Andrew , LeRose, Danielle , Leonard, Kyle , McDonald, Tia , Meredith, Shelby , Mieher, Joshua , Ortiz, Angela , Richards, Libby A , Ryan, Aislyn , Simpson, Vicki L , Sununtnasuk, Celeste , Vasquez, Clara , Venort, Taisha
Institution: Purdue University
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2012 through August 14, 2013
Project Amount: $15,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Challenge Area - Water , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Access to safe water is recognized as a basic human right (United Nations, 2010). However, approximately 783 million people worldwide do not have access to improved sources of drinking water (United Nations, 2012) and 5 million people die each year from unsafe drinking water, lack of sanitation, and insufficient water for hygiene (WHO, 2008). Safe, potable water access can significantly decrease the frequency of waterborne disease outbreaks.

In August 2012, our team began exploring ways to address this global issue. The overarching goal of this project is to develop a sustainable, community-scale water treatment system to be established in various communities in the Dominican Republic (DR) and, by extension, to improve the health of residents of those communities. A school was chosen as the ideal implementation site for this pilot project because, as a focal point for education, it is sustainable in the sense that learning will reach new segments of the population every year.

Our treatment system, based on the multiple-barrier concept, is expected to allow for removal or inactivation of parasites, bacteria and potentially viruses from water, while at the same time requiring little or no electrical power. A design combining a biologically-active sand filter (BSF) and low pressure hollow fiber membranes was chosen. In combination with educational initiatives to address hygiene and sanitation practices among residents, our efforts are expected to curb incidence of waterborne illness in the community.

The overall goal for Phase I was to examine the feasibility of implementing a community-scale water treatment system in the DR. To accomplish this goal a multi-disciplinary team of faculty and students spanning six disciplines (listed above) was assembled to address four specific objectives: (1) Identify and engage school and community partners to promote sustainable change; (2) Assess the current health, water quality and socioeconomic conditions of the community; (3) Develop a scalable water treatment system that responds to the community’s needs and expectations; and (4) Assess the market for drinking water in the rural DR, estimate design-costs, and determine project payback feasibility. Another purpose was to provide a cross- cutting educational experience for students from Purdue University.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

  1. Identify and engage school and community partners to promote sustainable change:

    The Purdue University team developed a relationship with Dr. Alexandra Rodriguez Adams, who is the Rotary Regional Governor for the Dominican Republic. Dr. Adams facilitated contact with Mr. Antonio Peña, who is the President of the Las Canas Rotary Club and a leader in the community. Mr. Peña initiated two meetings between the Purdue team and local Rotarians who are active members and leaders of Las Canas and other neighboring communities. A school in Las Canas, Ana Julia Diaz Luna (Ana Julia), was chosen as the pilot site. During the visit to the DR, a forum was held with 23 community leaders, including the directors of several schools in the area, staff of a medical clinic and members of various local Rotarian clubs. They responded to the presentation of the water treatment system with enthusiasm and interest and several attendees emphasized the need for implementation to expand beyond Las Canas. The second meeting was hosted by the Rotary Club of Las Canas. As with the previous meeting in Las Canas, the need for broad implementation was expressed.

  2. Assess the current health, water quality and socioeconomic conditions of the community:

    We found out that the students’ only options for safe drinking water are to furnish water from home or purchase water from the cafeteria. Many Ana Julia students travel distances greater than two kilometers and are unable to carry enough water from home. In addition, household water quality is unknown and variable. Most of the students are unable to afford water sold at the cafeteria. The latrines at the school were also assessed. Out of the two restroom facilities, only one had a sink available for hand-washing, however no soap was available and the faucet had no ability to turn off and on.

    Water samples were collected and analyzed from different locations in the Las Canas region including surface water, the Ana Julia hand-washing supply, and a source well storage tank. The measured values were consistent with water that is unsafe to drink.

    We also visited the local community health clinic, Servicio Regional de Salud Cibao Central, and spoke with the primary doctor. She reported that 50% of the women seeking treatment complained of a skin rash determined to originate from contact with contaminated water. 40% of patients seeking care were diagnosed with diarrheal illness attributable to amoeba, Giardia, and Ascaris, all of which are waterborne parasitic pathogens.

  3. Develop a scalable water treatment system that responds to the community’s needs and expectations:

    Experiments were performed in laboratories at Purdue University to determine the efficacy of the system components. The BSF experiments demonstrated the capability to reduce turbidity and pathogens in raw water from the Wabash River, a source found to have higher levels of turbidity and pathogens than the sources in the DR. The experiments performed on the hollow fiber membranes demonstrated that they can provide adequate flow rates for the proposed system over a range of expected head differentials, as well as effective removal of waterborne bacteria and larger microbes.

  4. Assess the market for drinking water in the rural DR, estimate design-costs, and determine project payback feasibility:

    To estimate the water market and cost of the system, site-specific information regarding current water sources, prices, and treatment practices was obtained from a team-written survey (given to 100 households in Las Canas), as well as secondary market information. From this it was determined that rainwater and bottled water are the two primary sources of drinking water for the majority of households. Observations of the drinking water market indicate that there is a functioning water market based mostly on the sale of bottled water. However, the average household median income per month was less than that needed to purchase the recommended amount of water for a household of four.

    In this project, the revenue generated from selling excess water must cover the initial investment as well as periodic maintenance of the system. The break-even price was found to be substantially less than current bottled water prices, indicating that the community can easily set a price for the water at an amount slightly higher and generate a modest profit.


Overall, this project balances the elements of people, prosperity, and planet by providing a holistic approach to a complex issue. Findings from the literature and the Purdue team’s on-site visit confirmed the need for a water treatment system. A considerable amount of time and effort was invested in educating the team about Dominican culture and the characteristics of Las Canas specifically. In addition to a system design that responds directly to the needs of Ana Julia, many crucial relationships were formed that will enhance the project long-term. Findings of the team- written survey addressed prosperity, as it showed that individuals buying bottled water as an alternative to unsafe water is simply not feasible. The proposed system encapsulates a responsible approach to the planet in that plastic waste from bottled water is rampant in the Las Canas area and will be decreased by our system. Our approach also minimizes the amount of electricity used and reduces carbon emissions from boiling water. Results obtained from the lab experiments demonstrate that implementing a scalable drinking water treatment system in Las Canas is feasible.

Supplemental Keywords:

Water  Treatment,  Slow  Sand  Filtration,  Membrane  Separation, Health Practices, Entrepreneurship.