UVU Hydrologists Locate Well in Rural Mexican Village
September 11, 2009
For Immediate Release
For more information: Joel Bradford (801) 863-7263
University Marketing & Communications: Erin Spurgeon, (801) 863-6807
Written by: Chelsey Richardson, (801) 863-8504
In the rural Mexican village of Tamaula, water is a valuable commodity. There are no nearby sources to hydrate the small population; a truck comes up from the city once a week, bringing 1,000 gallons of water to divide up among the 400 villagers – allowing roughly ten gallons per week each. Villagers then carry the water home on the backs of burros in five-gallon milk jugs and ration it protectively until the next week’s delivery. But now a combined effort of Utah Valley University faculty and students has changed the villagers’ lives with the advent of a local well, located and drilled by UVU’s own Department of Earth Sciences. Another well is being drilled in Chihuahua next month, where UVU anthropology and community health students will join the research.
“It’s a triumph of the science of hydrology,” said Steve Emerman, associate professor of earth sciences. “[We’re] going back in a few weeks to more fully assess the situation, looking at windmills to pump water, pipelines to carry water… It was really nice for our students to take what they have learned in their classes and apply it to change people’s lives.”
The village is situated on a volcano. The volunteers had to help construct a road a half mile-long over a volcano with trees and thorns and cactus, pulling down trees with chains and burros, cutting down cactus with machetes and uprooting boulders with crowbars and pickaxes.
“35 men were working at any given time for three days,” Emerman said. The UVU faculty and students were also on site the entire time; in fact, the only women working on road construction were students from UVU, Emerman said. “The drilling rig came in to drill down and after they had drilled down only 30 feet, water started coming out at 12 gallons per second. Basically we’ve completely changed the way of life in that village.”
With the well yielding such an amount of water, a main concern is its sustainability. Since volunteers are not in the village year-round, they plan to teach the inhabitants of Tamaula how to evaluate and track the well in the long-term, collecting data on water usage and the level of water left in the well for later analysis.
UVU students and faculty have been traveling to Tamaula for humanitarian work since 2001 with several members of UVU faculty, including Mike Bunds, associate professor of earth sciences, and Joel Bradford, associate professor of environmental technology. Bradford began work in 1999 with an organization called Choice Humanitarian.
“My first two expeditions were with [Choice], and then after that I said, well, maybe we ought to start bringing students down with us,” Bradford said. “For several years we’d go down, but it was just plain old service, it had nothing to do with research or scholarly activities. But over the last couple of years we’ve been combining research and scholarly studies with the service.”
Students make a year commitment to the project. They travel to Tamaula and gather the data, analyze it and put it into a form to present it to the Society for Applied Anthropology, the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union and the Utah Council on Undergraduate Research (UCUR). It’s undergraduate research, but it’s research with an applied service purpose, Bradford said.
For this trip, the participants received a series of grants: an SAC grant, CEL grant and two IPE grants. One student received a SCOP grant from the AVPAA Undergraduate Research and International Programs Office. Mike Bunds obtained a UVU Presidential Scholar Award. The group also received money from the UVU Department of Earth Sciences and Bob Johnson, vice president of U.S. Synthetic, who has donated both time and money to the project.
“What’s expensive is the drilling,” Emerman said. “They’re drilling into very hard rock. The well cost $7,000 and this is paid for by UVU – we’re very grateful for that. When you’re spending that much money for a well you don’t want to make mistakes. We’re very grateful to UVU for basically taking this risk.”