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OSU group working on water storage and treatment

In the Salvadoran villages of El Naranjito and Las Mercedes, women walk for miles each day to fetch water, carrying it back to their families in colorful jugs called canteros balanced atop their heads.

Often, this spring water is contaminated, leading to gastrointestinal problems, which are especially dangerous for young children. Also, a rainy season followed by six dry months creates an inconsistent water supply.

Some Oregon State University students, along with professional engineers from throughout the Northwest, are using the knowledge they've gained in the classroom to design water storage and treatment systems for these villages.

On Friday, the OSU chapter of Engineers Without Borders will host a benefit to raise money for the group's El Salvador Water Project.

"I think it's kind of a duty of all engineers to use our knowledge to help develop local and international infrastructures in a sustainable manner," said Kelsey Edwardsen, project coordinator.

Edwardsen, a senior majoring in civil engineering, recently returned from El Salvador. She, along with four other OSU students and two professional engineers, spent 12 days in the Ahuachapan region of the country, assessing the community's needs.

"It's a beautiful country, very friendly and warm people," Edwardsen said.

Engineers Without Borders is a non-profit humanitarian organization that sends engineers and students into developing communities worldwide to improve their quality of life and promote sustainability.

The OSU chapter has 200 students on its listserv and about 35 active members, Edwardsen said.

Most are engineers, but Edwardsen said the group needs students from a variety of majors, including public health, business and political science.

The local Engineers Without Borders participants hope to build two tanks to collect rainwater that can sustain families during the dry season. They'd also like to build a dam.

The group plans to return to El Salvador in the spring or early summer to oversee construction on the first tank. It will hold about 70,000 gallons and serve between 20 and 25 families.

First, the students must raise the $80,000 needed to build the tank and cover travel costs and geographical survey expenses.

They'd also like to partner with Potters for Peace, a group that uses local materials and labor to create inexpensive ceramic water filters.

It's a simple design - a plastic bucket with a clay filter - but the colloidal silver lining kills bacteria and purifies the water for drinking, Edwardsen said. It costs about $20 to sponsor one of these devices for a family, and another $8 every two years to have the filter changed.

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Prior to the September trip, OSU's Engineers Without Borders traveled to El Salvador in March to launch the project.

Among those who went were Kelly Wilson, a sophomore studying chemical engineering, who serves as secretary for the group, and James Nusrala, an engineer with the state Department of Environmental Quality.

"It was a very productive and rewarding visit. We really got to meet the entire community," Nusrala said.

"It was a chance to get to know the community and what they wanted for themselves and what we could do to help," according to Wilson.

In addition to providing engineering students with field experience, the El Salvador Water Project helps promote social consciousness, Edwardsen said.

"We're promoting culturally and internationally aware engineering students who will use their technical knowledge to address global development issues," she said.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: "Clean H2O: From Corvallis to El Salvador," a banquet benefiting OSU's El Salvador Water Project

WHO: OSU chapter of Engineers Without Borders

WHEN: 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday

WHERE: OSU Memorial Union Ballroom, 2501 S.W. Jefferson Way

TICKETS: $50; to reserve a seat, contact Kelly Wilson at wilsonke@engr.

ETC.: The event will feature an authentic Salvadoran meal, music, a silent auction of pieces donated by local artists and a keynote address by Mario Magaña, a native Salvadoran and OSU engineering professor.

More information about the El Salvador Water Project is available at http://groups.engr.oregonstate.edu/

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