Colombia Water Works: Turning Trash Into Cisterns
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
For more than a decade, Cecilia Uribe has relied on a higher power to provide a basic utility: water. In her sprawling neighborhood on the outskirts of Colombia’s capital, municipal water only ran twice a month, she explained, “so I would just wait for my God to make it rain.”
Capturing and storing that scarce resource, however, required more earthly intervention. For the last six years, Ricardo Alba has focused his attention on that simple but vital question: how to harness the rain in a country where more than three million people don’t have access to running water.
His solution — both simple and cheap — has been catching global attention. Alba, 56, developed a system for interconnecting discarded 3-liter plastic bottles. The standard array, or Ekomuro H2O+, as he calls it, consists of blocks of nine bottles stacked six high. Attached to a gutter or downspout, the homemade cistern can hold 43 gallons of rainwater that’s available through a spigot at the bottom of the tower.
It costs less than $50 to build — even if people pay a premium for the bottles, he said. And it’s infinitely expandable. He’s created an Ekomuro for a school out of 324 bottles.
The heart of the system is an ingenious way of connecting the recipients. Alba uses a household iron to affix bottle tops back-to-back. After he bores a hole through them, he can screw a bottle on either end, creating 6-liter reservoir. Each of those mini-cisterns is attached to a pair above it through food-grade silicone tubing.
“The great thing about using PET bottles is they’re standard almost anywhere in the world,” Alba said. “And we’re turning trash into something useful.