George Mason University
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George Mason University

Mason Engineering students deliver clean water to community in Ecuador

January 20, 2020   /   by Nanci Hellmich

Mason's Engineers for International Development "brought water to families that had never had access to potable water before. This is a really large scale project with huge social impacts."

— Dave Lattanzi, associate professor in the Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering

In early January, Anna Close, right, and seven other members of Mason's Engineers for International Development traveled to an agriculture community in Ecuador to build a new clean water system for an area where some families had high levels of bacteria in their water while others didn’t have access to running water at all. All eight students worked tirelessly on the project, says Close, who is president of the group.

Mason Engineering students are willing to tackle complex projects, even when it's something as critical as creating a new clean water system for an agricultural community in Ecuador.

Members of Mason’s Engineers for International Development (EfID) traveled to San Pablo de Amali in January 2019, June 2019, and January 2020 for a week at a time to work on the clean water system.

Some families in the area had high levels of bacteria in their water; others didn’t have access to running water at all.

"EfID designed and installed a water storage system, a massive retention pond, and several miles of buried pipe," says Dave Lattanzi, an associate professor in the Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering and the group’s faculty advisor.

 "They brought water to families that had never had access to potable water before. This is a really large scale project with huge social impacts,” he says.

After the first two trips to Ecuador to assess the area and design the system, the students returned in January to build the man-made pond with water from the nearby Limon River, and they laid the pipes to eight homes in the community.

“All eight students on the trip worked tirelessly all week to get the project done, including the connections to the houses, the pond, and a concrete pad designed to hold two tanks filled with 5,000 liters of water,” says civil engineering senior Anna Close, president of EfID.

Mechanical engineering senior Paul Cipparone, vice president of EfID, adds, “We had help from a municipal government employee who ran an excavator. The guy was a wizard with the equipment.”

Residents were excited when the new system became operational. “They were overjoyed at having clean water in their homes,” Cipparone says.

The next phase of the project, on which they’ll work on in June, involves adding UV disinfection to the water, as well as piping to the rest of the area’s 50 homes.

The group has conducted projects in Nicaragua, Honduras, the Peruvian Andes, and the Amazon, addressing small communities’ concerns about water shortages, clean water access, sanitation, and hygiene.

"EfID has created tremendous social impact through their work and embodies the spirit of our university," says Lattanzi, the John Toups Faculty Fellow in civil engineering. "I am grateful to have had the opportunity to see their work first hand, and I’ve never been more proud of our institution.”

The group’s projects are funded by the Civil Engineering Institute and EfID fundraising events.

The most recent trip included eight students, Lattanzi, technical advisor Matthew Doyle, and outside advisor Ingrid Davis-Colato of Michael Baker International.

Cipparone says this experience was life-changing for him. “In my career, I want to do tangible work that is beneficial for people’s lives.”

“All eight students on the trip worked tirelessly all week to get the project done, including the connections to the houses, the pond, and a concrete pad designed to hold two tanks filled with 5,000 liters of water.”

— Anna Close, civil engineering senior and president of EfID

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