I began a new journey two months ago, tracing two long arcs:
- Climbing all 48 mountains in New Hampshire that over 4000 feet tall, what is called “peak-bagging” by local climbers. I’m describing, in words and images, the ascent of each of these peaks – mostly done solo, but sometimes with a friend or two;
- Working in international development during the MDG era: what was it like in the sector as it boomed, and evolved, from the response to the Ethiopian crisis in the mid-1980’s through to the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.
The fourth of the 48 peaks that I summited was Mt Flume, a challenging climb because of the very steep scramble near the top. Eric and I continued from Flume to the top of Mt Liberty (which will be the subject of my next blog entry), so along with being a tough climb, it was also a long day.
From the parking lot, we headed north along the highway before turning east on Liberty Spring Trail. Soon we came to the junction with Flume Slide Trail, which we took.
The hike was pleasant at first, a typical White Mountain forest walk, but the last section was very challenging – very steep granite face, quite wet and slippery. Holding onto narrow, wet handholds with long drops below – quite nerve wracking.
Here are two photos from the climb: one at lunch, the other at the top (these two images courtesy of Eric Smith):
That’s Mt Liberty on the right side of the photo – more about that in my next blog.
I was happy to have that walking stick, though an ice-axe would have been better! Not that there was any ice or snow, but holding on to rock with the pick end of an ice-axe would have been very helpful and comforting!
I’m writing twice about the work we did in the community of San Rafael in 1985-86. Last time I described the context of that indigenous, Cañari community, the origins of the potable-water system we built, focusing mainly on the design and construction of the first ferrocement water-storage tank built in Ecuador.
I mentioned in that blog that our work in San Rafael was very important for me, because of the situation in that community, which was suffering an outbreak of typhoid* when I first visited: encountering small coffins being taken out of the community, through the fog, was an indication of the situation there. Important because of what I learned in designing and working to help build an innovative water system. And important because of where it led me, personally and professionally, connections I made during that time that led me into a career in international development and social justice.
When I returned to the US after completing my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Azogues, I spent some time writing and publishing two journal articles about the San Rafael water project – both articles are available by clicking below:
- one article was an overview of the system in “Waterlines”, a journal devoted to appropriate technologies for water supply and sanitation. I’ve uploaded a copy of that article, here: Waterlines;
- and another article describing the design and construction of the ferrocement tank in some technical detail, in “Journal of Ferrocement” published by the International Ferrocement Information Center. That article is here: Journal of Ferrocement – A 50m3 Water Reservoir for Cañar Ecuador – MCPEAK
My focus this time is on the windmill we built to pump water for San Rafael’s system.
As I mentioned last time, there were no sources of surface water above the community, so we couldn’t build a simple gravity-flow system. But we did find water a few meters below ground, above the community. That was lucky.
So we began construction in mid-1985, digging a well by hand, and lining it with simple concrete rings that we poured at the site. Here are a few images of that process:
(If you look closely, in one of the photos you can see the location of the water storage tank downhill from where we were pouring the reinforcement rings.)
This process worked well. We formed the rings with the same tin sheets that we would soon use for the tank formwork. Once the rings were cured, and the 6m-deep well dug by hand, we carefully lowered each ring into place.
We needed a pump to get the water out of that well, of course. There was no electricity in San Rafael, and the community wouldn’t be able to afford fuel for a gasoline or diesel pump (but, see below for how that turned out!).
Amazingly, I was able to source 11 years of wind data from a nearby meteorological station, confirming that the use of wind power to pump water for San Rafael’s system was feasible. So, I would design and we would build a windmill on top of the well…
How to design the windmill? As I mentioned last time, Peace Corps had initially indicated that I wasn’t qualified for assignment to IEOS because I was a Mechanical, rather than a Civil, Engineer. Thanks to the easy-going Peace Corps Country Director of the time, Ned Benner, in the end I was welcomed, and bureaucratic requirements were finessed.
Not being a Civil Engineer wasn’t a problem, and as I described earlier it even enabled me to think differently about how to build water-storage tanks. But designing a windmill – that was a task for a Mechanical Engineer! So I was well-prepared.
I no longer recall where I found it, but somehow I got my hands on “How to build a Cretan sail wind pump for use in low-speed wind conditions,” from IT Publications in London (1979). Maybe there was a copy in the Peace Corps office in Quito?
Given the wind records, and my estimate of the required water flow for the community, I chose a diameter of 6m for the windmill; the metal tubing we used for the spokes of the wind wheel were 3m long, so that was convenient. To simplify the design, I chose to have the turbine operate downwind of the tower, which meant that no tail would be required: rather, I designed a counterweight to balance moments across the bearing assembly, so the wind would push the structure around and orient it correctly.
Here are some images of the construction and installation of the Cretan Sail windmill:
We welded the tower in sections, enabling easy transport. And we assembled the 6m-diameter wind wheel at a nearby shop in Biblian, close to Azogues. There was a factory near Azogues that manufactured heavy canvas covers for truck beds, and I arranged for them to prepare the sails for the windmill – a set of large sails for low-wind conditions, and a set of smaller sails for higher-wind days.
Transporting the wind wheel to San Rafael, along the Pan-American Highway, was tricky – as can be seen in one of the images in the slideshow, above, it was large! And, unlike the tower, we couldn’t build it in sections. So we had to sneak it under many electrical and telephone wires along the way, and even a few water pipes that had been hung informally across the road. Luckily there were no underpasses between Azogues and Cañar!
We built a small hut for the chlorination plant, and trained a couple members of the community to manage that, and to maintain the windmill.
Once the windmill was installed, we tested it over several weeks. When the windmill caught the wind, it was a dramatic sight. The wind wheel turned downwind of the tower and caught the wind, accelerating quickly and impressively. It pumped a lot of water and took your breath away when it accelerated!
Fitting the sails was fairly simple: the caretaker simply tied the wind wheel to the tower, and then swapped to sails that were suitable for the wind conditions – small sails for high-wind conditions, and larger ones when the wind was light.
But, in contrast to the ferrocement tank, the Cretan Sail windmill we built for San Rafael wasn’t so successful. There were two main problems. Firstly, my design was not really robust enough. It pumped water very well in a range of conditions, but there were some very severe wind gusts in the area. A few days after installation, a couple of welds in the wind wheel broke in heavy wind, and we had to bring welding equipment up to the site to repair it.
And although climbing up the tower to change sails was simple, it was a bit scary; like climbing up Mt Flume, it was steep and nerve-wracking! When the wind wheel was turning, especially, even though there was no danger of being struck by the wind wheel, climbing up the tower was still a daunting task. I think that the community caretakers we had trained to maintain the system, including the windmill, were understandably nervous about changing sails when the wind was up.
A few weeks after the San Rafael system was inaugurated, I finished my Peace Corps service. We built two more ferrocement tanks in those weeks, using the manual I had written. I don’t think that the windmill lasted very long after I left; a weld or two probably broke, and that was that.
A couple of years later, when Jean and I were living in Colombia and I was working for Plan International (more on that in upcoming blogs!), we visited Plan Cañar, and I made sure we went to San Rafael. The ferrocement tank was in great shape, working perfectly. The windmill, however, was abandoned, and the community had bought a diesel pump with support from Plan. So, in fact, the water system was working well, supplying water.
We could see that construction of a large irrigation canal was nearing the area where we had built the windmill and water-storage tank. Local community members told me that they had gotten permission to take water from that canal for their water system. So, in the end, the potable water system for San Rafael was successful!
I certainly learned a lot from that community. Introducing innovations into a community like that was tricky and, in particular, issues of maintenance needed to be thought through very carefully. There were cultural aspects of the process of introducing new technology that I learned about – the windmill, for example, was a challenge from that point of view. Who knows what the Cañari people living in San Rafael made of it!
So the Cretan Sail windmill failed. The ferrocement tank was a big success, and in the future I would come across many water-storage tanks built from that design in many parts of South America, even in Albania (where Annuska Heldring would serve as Country Director for Plan.) The particular section of a sphere that I chose for the cupola was very recognizable!
Most importantly, the community of San Rafael had water. Some day I would love to visit, now a bit over 30 years later, to see how they have progressed.
Here are links to blogs in this series. Eventually there will be 48 articles, each one about climbing one of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, and also reflecting on a career in international development:
- Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
- Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
- Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
- Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
- Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
- Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
- East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
- Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
- Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
- North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
- Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
- North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
- South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
- Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
- Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
- Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
- Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
- South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
- Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
- Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
- Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
- South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
- Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
- Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
- Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
- Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
- Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
- Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
- Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
- Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
- Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
- Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration.
* I got it wrong in my last blog – it was typhoid, not cholera. Still…