The community of Agua Fría is full of naturally occurring springs. Unfortunately though, they still suffer from shortages as water is either contaminated or reabsorbed into the ground. Since the start of the year, Nuevas Esperanzas has worked to protect one such spring. Now it provides clean and plentiful water and acts as a second source for some 260 people on the water-stressed slopes of the Telica Volcano.

This water source has always existed. However, it could never be used to its full potential. Women – often up 20 at a time – would come to do their washing in the stream below it. But as the water emerged from the ground it would quickly get contaminated and was never a viable source for drinking. Occasionally, when other sources ran dry, people would search for a relatively clean-looking section and fill a few barrels to take home. But normally the dirty water would simply infiltrate back into the ground and be lost, forcing families to walk further to find water to meet their most basic needs.

Unlike a ‘point source’ spring – where the water emerges at the contact between two different geological formations – this spring migrates. That means that the water emerges bit by bit along a stretch of about 50 metres. As the groundwater rises with the rains, the spring emerges higher up. As it drops, it comes out lower down. Despite its great potential, this makes it harder to capture before it mixes with contaminants on the surface.

Nuevas Esperanzas has already protected one spring in Agua Fría. However, in 2013 it became apparent that further projects were still needed to avert a water crisis in the community. The main reason for this potential crisis was that the higher spring had been experiencing reduced flow since that project’s completion in 2011. Initially the spring overflowed for several months into the dry season, providing enough water for drinking, bathing and for animals. Then in 2013 the storage tank never completely filled after the wet season and yield has been dropping ever since. Such a dramatic change is very unusual. Although it may only be temporary, the community members began to discuss whether they needed to ration water to avoid a crisis.

The concern was not just that people in Agua Fría would be left without water and would have to walk longer distances to collect it on a daily basis. There was also a concern that this crisis may turn the community’s attention to one of Nuevas Esperanzas’ other projects. At the end of 2013, work was completed on a pipeline to carry water from a different spring in Agua Fría to the communities of El Caracol, La Unión and Nuevo Amanecer. The 74 families in Agua Fría could soon have been venting their frustration at the export of this much needed resource to communities lower down while a drought loomed higher up.

The project began in earnest in January of this year when building supervisors Cristobal, Leonidas, and Donaldo set to work with members of the community. They placed rocks over 100 square metres of the spring and then sealed it with cement. This reduces the risk of surface contamination. At the lowest point they built a wall to divert all this protected water into a pipe. This pipe carries the water 210 metres to a nearby path where it can easily be collected. Recent measurements showed that the flow is 1.4 litres of water per second and the risk of waterborne disease has been dramatically reduced.

Having initially been formulated to respond to an impending crisis, this project could form the basis of a permanent solution to the remaining water problems within the community. Now the spring is protected, Director Andrew Longley and civil engineer Arturo Juarez plan to monitor the yield and the quality before deciding what to do next. With quantity and quality improved, the next step could be to focus on the third indicator of success in water projects: the distance a family travels to collect water. One potential option is to install a hydraulic ram – a type of pump that is powered by the kinetic energy of the water alone and requires no outside source of power. This could allow a small portion of the water to be pumped to a point higher than the spring itself and could lead to a new distribution system to service some 40 homes.

A project that was started to meet an urgent need could end up all but solving the last of the water problems on the Telica Volcano and allow Nuevas Esperanzas to move on to neighbouring areas where water shortages are also a problem.