Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Improving Water Quality and Water Management in the Dominican Republic

In recognition of World Water Day, we are highlighting a recent F2F assignment focused on water quality and water management in the Dominican Republic. Every year on this day, the UN World Water Development Report is launched and starts conversations about how best to manage our world’s most abundant natural resource, especially for those members of the global population who suffer the most from water scarcity and related issues. 

Collecting water samples
Erin Menzies recently completed her first F2F volunteer assignment in the Dominican Republic. Her work was focused on developing methodologies and procedures to measure the physical, biological, and chemical parameters of water quality at banana packing houses and training banana producers at small packing houses on improved practices and methods to maintain and/or improve water quality. Ms. Menzies has extensive experience working in sustainable international agriculture. She holds a degree in environmental engineering, and she is a candidate at Cornell University for a PhD in Water Resources Engineering.

While in country, Ms. Menzies took samples of water being discharged into the environment at packing facilities and analyzed them for acidity, electrical conductivity, and salinity. These can indicate the level of contamination in an agricultural setting. Ms. Menzies found that there were no serious concerns for severe contamination but noted that locations where there is mild contamination could be improved by adding a gravel and activated carbon filter to the system to filter the water before it is discharged into agricultural canals. 

Ms. Menzies provided recommendations about farm operations and management strategies that can reduce watershed scale nutrient pollution. She also recommended that producers not apply fertilizer or other agricultural products to low lying areas or commonly saturated soils, and that they not apply fertilizer less than 3 days before a rain event or spray irrigation is scheduled. 

She noted that a pressing cause for concern at the banana packing facilities was the quantity of water
Analyzing water samples
being used. Producers pump groundwater into processing tanks all day to maintain a constant flow to keep the bananas moving through the facility. The tanks are filled in the morning and drained in the evening. She proposed that one tank's worth of water should be cycled through the system throughout the whole day. This would reduce the amount of water being pumped out of the ground. Ms. Menzies recommended that "If the water cannot be recycled through the system it should not be discharged to open agricultural ditches where it is lost to the atmosphere or carried out to sea by the river, it should be injected back into the ground through the use of a well or a leach field. Both of these options, recycling the water through the tanks and reinjecting the water would require the use of an activated carbon and gravel filter to ensure that any contaminants in the water are removed before discharging it into natural waters."

Ms. Menzies reflected that "This trip reminded me why I chose this field from the beginning. I love doing this kind of hands on work, talking about water, interacting with people, and thinking critically about how we use our water and how we can use it better." 

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