Field Report: Engineers Without Borders Team Inspects ClearWater Systems In Ecuador, Day 4

Written by Mike G

Topics: Frontline Communities, Oil

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This is part four of a series. Read part one here, part two here, and part three here.

San Pablo

San Pablo, about 2 hours upriver by canoe from Cofan Dureno, is a Secoya community—though they’ve recently voted to re-adopt their traditional name, Sia’Copai, so I should say it’s a Sia’Copai community.

Here’s what it looks like to ride in a canoe down the Aguarico with the ClearWater crew and the Engineers Without Borders team from San Jose State University:

The Sia’Copai had a road built through their community fairly recently. Mitch said that when he first visited San Pablo, they didn’t have the road, and their whole lifestyle was built around the river. Now that the road has gone in, they are a motorcycle community. Everyone has a motorcycle.

Like Cofan Dureno, San Pablo received ClearWater systems as part of the pilot project. While the systems have made a huge difference in many people’s lives in San Pablo, proper maintenance has been more of an issue for them than it has for the Cofan, which points up one of the challenges we face as we try to roll out ClearWater to the remaining communities that need it.

Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch and Jason Graham of the San Jose State University chapter of Engineers Without Borders inspect the filters in a ClearWater system in San Pablo.

We visited the house of Javier Piaguaje, who received one of the ClearWater systems. He lives with his father and two sisters, as well as two pet monkeys, a tortoise, and a cockatiel. They’re all very pleased with the clean, potable water they’re getting from their system.

Javier Piaguaje shows the Engineers Without Borders team his ClearWater system.

Javier took us out to the community water system, which stopped functioning years ago. No one is sure why. There’s a newer, smaller system that was installed just a few years ago, which functions better than the community systems in Rumipamba and Cofan Dureno—that is, when there’s gas to run the pump. When there isn’t gas, the people of the village have to get their water from the river, which is contaminated. And even when it is working, the community system isn’t piped out to people’s homes, so they have to walk from all points of the community to this central point to get water. In other words, a sustainable supply of resources is still an issue preventing the people of San Pablo from getting enough clean water.

At this point, my camera died, so while I went back to recharge it, the engineers went off to speak with a couple more community members about how their ClearWater systems are working out. I took the opportunity to sneak in a quick swim in the river. Unlike in Dureno, the riverside here was all sand, no rocks. It was such fine, soft sand that you could sink all the way up to your knee on any given step. But the water was cold and felt delicious after the sweaty, insect-harried afternoon I’d had.

Turned out to be just the right time of day to photograph the river, too:

Dinner that night was in the house of Marcelo, the vice president of the community. His wife and kids could not have been more hospitable as the nine of us took over their small living room and front porch.

The crew sits on the front porch and in the front room of Marcelo's house eating dinner.

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