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Evan LeBras

February 18, 14

Environmental Issues Seminar


Dr. John Lane

Water Resources In The Developing World


            Last week, our class was fortunate in that we had a visit from guest speaker Dr. Lane, who is Chief of the USGS Groundwater Division. Dr. Lane spoke about his experiences working in the USGS, however he really elaborated about what he did off of the job. This was basically the same thing, however, the Dr. had more of a humanitarian focus off of the job; as it was not based around making a living but rather helping others to live.

            He was able to do this by using his expertise in the field of water resources to provide clean water to people in developing countries. From Dr. Lanes slides, “2.4 billion lack adequate treatment systems”, “infant mortality: 17% from diarrhea related diseases”, and most shocking, “1.1 billion lack access to potable water”. These were just a few facts that underlined the main reason why Mr. Lane was so dedicated to helping people to gain access to a commodity that many people take for granted.

             Dr. Lane used the Engineering Design Cycle to bring water to the developing countries. Logically, this process makes sense because it takes a problem and outlines the method to come up with the best possible solution, time and time again. The process is as follows: Identify the problem, research the need, develop possible solutions, select the best solution, construct a prototype, test and evaluate, present a solution, and finally redesign (The Engineering Design Process). By utilizing this process, Lane has been able to succeed where others have failed. Many of the issues that people normally have overlooked have been smoothed out and perfected, so that the water that Lane and his crew bring to foreign countries stays there for generations to come. 

            By using this approach, Dr. Lane is forced to identify that part of the problem has to do with maintaining the system itself. Well meaning people often go to foreign countries and put in a well, however they do not think about what will happen when a piece costing less than a dollar fails on the pipe, and no one in the village is willing to pay for a new one. Or furthermore, no one in the village knows how to fix the issue even if they did have the piece they needed.

            By defining the problem, Dr. Lane made it clear that you really have to look at the bigger picture. Similar to the hydrologic cycle, there is a water and sanitation cycle that flows in a similar manner, he explained. We have to look at the source, delivery, consumption and disposal of water in a community, not just the source and delivery. This is due to the fact that it is a cycle, and your downstream water is always someone else’s source of water. To continue on the point of defining the problem, we have to think about whether or not we are designing a system for a municipality or a tribe, is there power? Is the power continuous or intermittent? Is the quality of available water good enough to drink, or does it need treatment? What are the trends of sickness in the area? Do these relate to weather patterns or particular times of the year, which affect the water cycle? These are all very important questions, which can make all the difference in prescribing, or rather selecting the best solution to the problem at hand.

            After the problem is well defined, it is time to research possible solutions. This part of the process can be tricky, because as you start to research you may realize that the original problem is bigger than it seemed, and you may need to go back and do more identifying of the original circumstance. One example that I liked in particular, is that some of the wells in places like India, are about 3 feet from the ground, and are about 5 feet wide, with open tops. This, the Dr. explained, could not only be a safety hazard, but could also be a source of contamination to wildlife that happens to fall inside, leafs which fall into the well and other things that you could imagine. Another example of how the lines between defining the problem and researching a solution, can become blurry come down to site selection. We start to look at hydrology, social issues, politics, distribution systems etc.

            One of the major contributors that are often overlooked are social issues. Sometimes the local tribes are mortal enemies and site selection is not entirely dependent on where geologically the best water is located. My favorite example that was provided was from the tribes in Africa, which are by nature nomadic. They have historical routes that they travel depending on the season, and there is a delicate balance that is not to be overlooked. Yes, these people are in need of water, but if we give them water, do we risk upsetting the natural balance and possibly cause greater damage?

            Overall, Dr. Lane opened our eyes mainly to the engineering cycle and how it can be applied to bring good to the world. It is not enough to just try to do well, you have to have a plan, a method, and really that is what it is all about. Otherwise, you can end up causing more harm than good even though your intensions are in the right place. If we really want to help people, we have to dig deeper than we really may think is necessary, and that was the true message that I got from Dr. Lanes presentation.



Works Cited


            Rhine, Don. "The Engineering Design Process." PMWiki. TEAMS Academy Wiki, 15 FEB 2008. Web. 18 Feb 2014. <http://www.cs.uml.edu/teams-academy/index.php/ATDF2008/EDP>.


Picture, Water Photo, http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/water/images/23444632/title/water-photo


            Dr. Lane, Guest Speaker, Three Rivers Community College, February 2014.

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.