Aqua’s leadership team recently joined forces with Villanova University to provide hands-on water quality expertise in Panama. The trip is one of the first in a new partnership between Aqua and the University’s College of Engineering to provide water infrastructure expertise in developing countries.
The team from Aqua traveled with representatives from Villanova Engineering Service Learning (VESL) to inspect water sites and meet with local community members and non-governmental organization partners. The six-day trip to the Alto Bayano region of Panama took place from August 11 to 16.
Aqua’s Rick Fox, Chief Operating Officer, Peter Virag (Corporate Energy Manager), Ryan Coombs (Chemist) and Deborah Watkins (Director, Water Quality & Environmental Compliance traveled to Panama with Jim O’Brien and Frank Falcone of the University’s College of Engineering.
A Panamanian representative, Father “Wally” Pablo Kasuboski, a Capuchin missionary priest from Wisconsin that has been serving in Panama for more than 30 years, led the representatives from Aqua and Villanova. Father Wally was the trip's visionary leader and works tirelessly on improving community conditions through ministry; building churches, roads, bridges, and water systems; and leading an agriculture cooperative while preserving the rain forests.
There were three specific goals defined by Aqua and Villanova going into the trip. These goals included:
· developing an understanding of local culture and the four water systems in the Alto Bayano region;
· evaluating existing water system challenges in the region including five leaking storage tanks and water quality concerns associated with chlorination and turbidity control during the rainy season; and
· brainstorming ideas to address these challenges while understanding the capabilities of the local operators, materials available, and the economy of the region.
Each day the team participated in different projects, including visiting a reservoir and dam, evaluating water storage and treatment methods, and analyzing samples from customers’ premises, storage tanks, and water sources in the region. The team attained a better understanding of the region's water systems and, throughout the course of their visit, collected samples for more detailed analysis at Aqua’s laboratory in Bryn Mawr.
While Aqua and the Villanova team were able to provide their expertise and services to one of the largest rural water supply systems in Central America, they also found time to experience the culture surrounding the Alto Bayano region. The team enjoyed a region filled with a beautiful mosaic of farmland, pastures, jungles, and city life. Life at the mission, the team’s home base, was delightful (and hot) with a smorgasbord of bunkhouses surrounded with wild animal noises, open air, copious amounts of rainfall, and great home cooking. The participants had the delight of trying the local cuisine including plantains, yucca root, beans, rice, Panamanian pizza, and Panamanian-influenced Chinese food.
The Panama trip participants enjoyed lending their expertise, learning about a new culture, and cautiously exploring the wildlife that calls the region home. Aqua and Villanova are looking forward to continuing their partnership and initiative to help international communities in desperate need of clean, safe drinking water.