Public Works Staff and GMU Students Build Clean Drinking Water System for Nicaraguan Orphanage

May 15, 2017
For Immediate Release

Public Works Staff and GMU Students Build Clean Drinking Water System for Nicaraguan Orphanage

The orphanage in Bilwi, Nicaragua has been using a deficient water supply system that included leaking faucets, toilets and pipes; open sources of water; undersized pipe, leading to low flow, pressure; and many water shortages. In addition to the shortage, the water was full of harmful bacteria. Unfortunately, filtration and disinfection methods were unavailable which enabled bacteria growth.

In developing countries such as Nicaragua, children under five years of age are the most severely affected by the lack of access to safe water. It has become such a problem that children often develop diarrheal diseases that lead to fatal illnesses. The onsite clinic at the orphanage provides help to the children in need; however, the clinic supplies its water from the same source as the orphanage, exacerbating the problem of unsafe water.

A few students from George Mason University worked alongside professionals from Fairfax County's Department of Public Works and Environmental Services to improve the quality of life for over 150 orphaned children by implementing an ultraviolet (UV) disinfection system. In addition to the UV system, GMU students collaborated with DPWES staff to create a pressurized looped water distribution system. The looped system maximizes the amount of disinfected water that the orphanage could use to improve their quality of life.

The orphanage's water supply system was renovated over a two-year span that included a complete redesign and expansion of the previous water system. The distribution, disinfection, and storage systems were planned and designed over two academic years, totaling thousands of man-hours. Several multidisciplinary aspects of engineering were involved in the design and implementation such as hydraulics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and structural analysis with an emphasis on sustainable design that requires minimal maintenance.

Contributions from 60 engineering students of various concentrations and six DPWES staff members made the large improvements in protection of public health, safety, and welfare possible. The project concluded in January 2017. It was a rewarding finish to a collaborative experience enjoyed by students and industry leaders alike.

Kids getting water

Abby Armuth and Matt Doyle

Water tanks and pipes

Jennifer Arias and Badanna Mohamadi


Contact: Matthew Kaiser, Public Information Officer 
Department of Public Works and Environmental Services 
703-324-8455, TTY 711


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