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PF300: Modular Gravity-Powered Water Treatment Plant Sustainable in Small Communities

AguaClara Reach will introduce a modular water treatment system in a village of Colombia that can treat surface water of up to 1000 NTU.

Photo of Subhani Katugampala
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

2.1 billion people still live without access to clean drinking water, and conventional water treatment plants have not effectively uplifted communities left behind in this basic human need. These plants are too complex and costly for such areas, and so they have an expected lifetime of 2 years in underdeveloped regions. AguaClara Reach (ACR) seeks to be among the global changemaking organizations who seek to address UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 by introducing a modular water treatment plant, called the PF300. The PF300 can be operated and maintained independently by rural villages and communities, and requires no electricity to run. We plan to introduce this new, cutting-edge technology in a small community in Colombia that lacks access to safe drinking water. Our program has successfully deployed 16 AguaClara plants, serving 70,000 people in Honduras and Nicaragua. AguaClara plants are built-in-place civil works that treat water, such as that from a river, for turbidity of up to 1000 NTU and pathogens. The need to construct the systems in place made them viable for communities of 1,500 people and larger. AguaClara quickly recognized the need for a similar system for smaller communities, giving rise to the prefabricated AguaClara plant, or PF300. This technology takes the conventional processes of treatment (coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, filtration, disinfection), powers them entirely by gravity, and condenses them down into a robust, modular system that reduces capital costs and land area. PF300s are prefabricated using inexpensive, off-the-shelf materials and are easy to transport and install. They are suitable for communities as small as 300 people, and multiple PF300s can be run side by side to serve communities of up to 1,500 people. AguaClara now wishes to undertake the first field pilot of the PF300 in a first-time expansion into Colombia, with a vision of scaling the technology to hundreds of underserved communities throughout the Amazon.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Currently, the planned beneficiary of the PF300 pilot will be a community of 100 families outside of Bogota, Colombia, with the potential to double the coverage area. These 100 families are receiving water from a community system that not compliant with drinking water regulations and has been operating for 40 years. Two community members have been identified to mobilize the residents from within, and local partners have been identified to assist with construction, regulatory compliance, and government liaison. Subsequent systems will benefit communities in the Amazon without access to water supply. We will work where there is a need to reduce waterborne disease, reducing lost workdays and costly medical fees. Additionally, by focusing on communities that lose time collecting unsafe water from distant sources -- a chore borne disproportionately by women and children -- opportunities for education and income generation increase with the introduction of the PF300.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

We have taken conventional municipal-scale water treatment systems and made them more cost-effective and high-performing. Specific innovations include: - Smart chemical dosing system that automatically turns on/off and adjusts to variations in flow rate without electronics, pumps, or sensors - Construction and fabrication by local labor using locally-available materials - Visually-observable tanks allow operators to develop intuition for troubleshooting - Quick responsiveness and new geometries reduce water waste and increase natural disaster-resilience - Fits in the back of a truck for easy transport - 100% gravity powered treatment - Operation, maintenance, and repair carried out independently by community operators - Allows provision of 24hr safe, reliable water service in smaller communities than previously thought possible, in quantities that support all household needs (cooking, cleaning, bathing) For $1-5/household/month, each individual can enjoy 100 liters of water.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.
  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

AguaClara Reach trains local civil service organizations to design and deploy resilient and affordable water treatment technologies in under-served communities around the world.

Expertise in sector

  • 5-7 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Founder of the program at Cornell, Dr. Monroe Weber-Shirk worked with Salvadoran refugees in Honduras in the 80s. During this time, he recognized barriers that prevented sustainable provision of safe drinking water. He was inspired to design a new water treatment plant that any community could own, operate, & maintain independently for decades. After the founding of ACR and several successful deployments in peri-urban settings, we will target the harder-to-reach smaller villages with the PF300.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Access to safe drinking water reduces disease and medical costs. Time and energy previously lost to illness and water collection increase economic potential and prosperity. Household water availability allows individuals can tend to all of their hygienic needs, including hand-washing flushing toilets. With newfound health, time, and income, communities are empowered to solve greater challenges on their own. The PF300 provides all of these benefits with minimal impact to the planet. Use of long-lasting parts minimizes material waste. It is also designed to waste 80% less water than conventional alternatives. Furthermore, it is powered using the cleanest energy available: gravity. As safe water becomes more scarce, experts predict a rise in water wars. By providing drinking water solutions that sustainably manage shared water resources, agitations due to inequality are reduced and communities are enabled to cooperate in equitably providing this basic human service.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

When AguaClara Reach (ACR) pilots and scales AguaClara technologies in the field, reflections and observations from that experience inform further innovation and optimization of the technologies by the AguaClara program at Cornell. The partnership helps us quickly resolve any unanticipated technological challenges that arise in the field. ACR identifies long-term local partners to train over the course of pilot and the first few deployments. We train these partners to design, build, install, troubleshoot, and monitor the technologies. We also train them to train communities to carry out daily operation and maintenance as well as future repairs. These partners have demonstrated expertise in building community-run water supply systems and provide cultural context and years of knowledge in how to build capacity in communities to successfully take lifelong ownership of the systems. They also bring critical connections to the local government and navigating national regulatory bodies.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The pilot community has been paying for water service for 40 years and the system already has local administrative oversight. They independently recognized the need to upgrade their water treatment system to be compliant with national regulations and have approached us for help in implementing a cost-effective solution. Two individuals within the community are taking the lead, collaborating with individual residents to democratically determine a solution that works for all of those served.

Geographic Focus

Colombia, with other potential pilot candidates in Nicaragua and Bolivia.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

The project will take 18 months. We will spend 2 months on preparation and planning. In this time we will work with the community to set the water bill, identify volunteers to for construction and installation, set the operator salary, procure the needed land, select operator candidates, and train the water board. We will spend 10 months installing the PF300 and building a facility to house it, during which time we will train operators and the water board. 6 months of monitoring will follow.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tanita Preston

Hola Subhani!

Thank you so much for your work and interest in our country. I would love to meet you and dig deeper into your technology and its efficiencies. Asade from our desalinization technology, we have multiple water transfer systems which we are currently testing in multiple rural areas with access to still or polluted water systems. Whenever you get a chance, please send me an email to and we can take it form there!

Good luck and hope to connect soon!!

Photo of Subhani Katugampala

Hola Tanita Preston ! I do see some potential for collaboration and partnership between our organizations in Colombia. I will email you later today so we can continue this conversation!

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