Exporting Ecosystem Services to Help Developing Nations Leapfrog from the 19th to the 21st Century

Percussion Drilling Center staff has recently begun discussions with Susan Leipsner and Van  Smith, with Lydia Ministries International located in North Carolina, about ways to improve the sustainability of groundwater development projects in places such as Haiti and Central Africa. For more than a century, developed nations have exported industrialism to foreign lands that lack the social capital to handle it. The results have frequently been disastrous.

Fortunately, many NGOs today, such as Lydia Ministries,  realize the need to export not just technology, but holistic programs that include social, economic, and environmental solutions that are specifically place-based and uniquely designed for the culture in which it is being implemented. Van Smith, a former Vietnam helicopter pilot, now drills appropriate technology wells for Equip Ministries, and will work with Susan on a new Kenya water supply project. These particular wells are created using a portable rig that drills a 6″ borehole 100-200′ deep in soft to moderately hard rock. Hand auger and percussion drilling is also used.

A handpump is used to extract the water as shown in the video below:

Hand pumping well

Both Susan and Van want to provide sustainable water supply solutions. They do a credible job on the environmental front, using geology and geophysical knowledge when they can, assisted by colleagues such as Vincent Allen, with the Consallen Group. Information supplied by Mr. Allen includes:

One well is no use


Where shall we dig and how deep?

According to Van, however, supply of a water well, even more than one, is not enough, as described in a recent email:

“A payment for ecosystem services approach”. Yep, that’s a great idea! I was back in the mountain of Haiti last year trying to get water at the top of a 4000′ fractured limestone, vertical strata, mountain. Most of the trees were gone. Very hardworking people! In the dry season they climbed down to 2400′ to get water, often twice a day. I wished one of these grandstanding eco-celebrities would put $10 or $20 million into a tree planting project. Pay 10% of the village workforce to plant trees with 50% payment up front, 25% more if the trees are still alive after 5 years and 25% after 10 years.

Village Level Operational Maintenance (VLOM) has been a buzz-word for some time. It is a VERY difficult concept to get established, even when well thought out and supervised for several years. However, the privately owned simple wells & pumps we’ve done seem to be maintained just fine, even after 5-6 years. The personal investment makes a difference.

We used to repair the deep wells (600′ bore, cylinder set at 140′) installed by the British back in the early 1960’s in Kenya. Sometimes we found pebbles in the top of the cylinder. The herd boys would flick a pebble down the pump spout.to hear it go “DINK, Dink, dink, dink…. We normally charged the village one goat to repair a well. Then we started charging 3 goats if we found pebbled inside the cylinder. The village elders then instituted period of well placed thwacks with a stick on the behinds of any kid caught putting pebbles in a pump and the problem disappeared.

Center staff, working with Virginia Groundwater, and Conserv, would like to find a way to assist Susan and Van with a pilot Payment for Groundwater Ecosystem Services (PES) program in Africa or Haiti. We seek to partner with other NGOs and perhaps university research faculty on a water development/PES initiative.

This entry was posted in Center News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.