(IAP ’14) Allison Hansen, G

Allison Hansen (G, Civil and Environmental Engineering) Alli spent the month of January in hot and sunny Tamale, Ghana working to improve the drinking water. She worked directly with the Ghana Water Company Ltd. in Tamale to better understand the challenges facing the piped water distribution system. Alli created a database of historical water quality data, previously only contained in handwritten notebooks, which will be used by the GWCL to better monitor the water quality they are producing and to make improvements to provide safer water for the people in Tamale relying on piped water. She is also working on a hydraulic model of an important region of the pipe network, which can be compared to real data to look for leaks leading to loss of revenue.

Forth Post-Feb. 5: Reflections

During my IAP in Ghana I was able to meet with the Ghana Water Company (GWCL) to learn how a piped distribution system works in a developed country and what challenges they are facing. I was able to have access to their water quality data which was previously only contained in handwritten notebooks with very limited computer analysis. I took the handwritten data and created a database that contains all the historical data, is easy to input new data into, and provides detailed reports summarizing water quality in different areas. This database can be used to better understand both water quality trends in the past and to make it easier to monitor current water quality conditions. I have passed this database along to the GWCL and taught them how to use it. In addition, I have data about the water distribution system which I hope to use to create an EPANET model of the system in the coming months. This model will provide a theoretical understanding of what should be happening with regards to pressure and flow of water in the pipes that can then be compared to actual data and may lead to the discovery of areas where leaks or illegal connections may be occurring causing loss of revenue.

I had an incredible experience in Ghana! I saw a new part of the world and experienced a new culture. I realized how incredibly blessed I am to live in a highly developed country. What surprised me the most was seeing how something as simple as basic data management could be so influential on a population. I see the stacks of notebooks and I immediately think that all that data would be so much easier to understand and analyze in a computer database. That thought had not really occurred to the GWCL. Creating this database was something I saw as so simple and obvious, something that I could easily help with, and something that would improve people’s lives. This experience taught me that I don’t need to have the next big innovation or some massive project with tons of funding in order to make an impact. I can take the wonderful education I have received and put it to use somewhere where people don’t have access to such an education. A little bit of knowledge is all it takes to change the world.

Third Post-Jan. 29: Overcoming Obstacles

Things don’t always go as planned. During my last week in Tamale, the GWCL decided to stop being so helpful. It is a great mystery as to why the sudden turn of events. After persistent calls and visits to the office being ignored, I determined that I was not getting anywhere.
Fortunately, all is not lost! I was able to get data about the region of the piped system that I hope to model and I have worked out all the kinks in the database I created so I feel confident that it will be a very valuable tool to the GWCL.

I was able to meet with the Water Quality Manager, Mr. Adam, who, thankfully, did answer my calls, and I showed him the database. I spent some time teaching him how to use it and I left him with a brief instruction manual and my contact information so I can provide any support needed as they are putting the database to use. I strongly believe that they will be able to make use of this database and will have a better understanding of their water quality and be able to make more targeted improvements so that the entire community can benefit.

Second Post-Jan. 20: Fun at the GWCL

The most surprising and challenging part of working in a developing country is that their quality standards and data analysis quite a ways behind those in the U.S.. In the past couple weeks I’ve spent most of my time creating a database for the water quality data from the GWCL that was previously in handwritten notebooks. The GWCL did enter some of the data into Excel spreadsheets that summarized the data by district and showed mean, mode, standard deviation, maximum, and minimum values for their measured parameters. However, specific dates and locations are not considered in their existing data analysis method and there was a lot of room for improvement.

I have created a database in Microsoft Access containing all the data previously only contained in the notebooks. My database allows the GWCL to see all the same parameters they were observing before but also opens up many more possibilities for them to better understand what is really happening in their system. For example, rather than just separating the distribution system into three large districts, I have also broken it into many smaller areas. This way, if, for example, a low chlorine residual is occurring somewhere it will be very easy to target the specific area or even the specific sample point where this problem is occurring and fix it.

Many GWCL employees are very excited and supportive of this endeavor because they are seeing the value of being able to better monitor the water quality they are distributing. I also made every attempt to make my database as user friendly as possible so it will be very easy for the GWCL to continue to use it after I leave. To that end, I also have planned a meeting with the water quality manager and other staff to show them what I have done, teach them how to use the database, and help them to understand the benefits. I sincerely hope that the GWCL will continue to use and improve my database because it has the potential to improve the water quality for everyone receiving water from the distribution system here in Tamale.

Due to problems with system maintenance and broken materials (another one of the challenges of a developing country), the modeling part of my project has not gotten off the ground yet; however, I have received a lot of positive feedback from the GWCL about their hope that I can help them with their non-revenue water problems.

First Post-Jan. 4: I’m In Ghana!

I am currently in Tamale, Ghana! This IAP I am working on a project with the Ghana Water Company Ltd. (GWCL) here in Tamale. The GWCL supplies piped water to many of the residents in this city however, it is facing many challenges. As Ghana is a developing country, many people lack access to clean water. GWCL does provide treated drinking water but, as a previous M.Eng student found out last year, even the treated water can be contaminated when it reaches consumers. There are many causes of this contamination including: unsafe storage practice, leaking pipes, and intermittent water supply.

The piped water in Tamale is intermittent which means that water is not flowing in all pipes at all times. Consumers may only receive water for a few hours every day. This system operates very differently than the continuous systems in developed countries. One problem GWCL faces that amplifies the intermittency problem is non-revenue water. Non-revenue water (NRW) is the difference between the water produced by the company and the water paid for by consumer. NRW is lost through broken or leaking pipes, inaccurate meters, and illegal connections to the piped system. The GWCL reports that 52% of the water they produce is NRW! Because so much revenue is being lost due to NRW there is less money available for maintenance and expansion of the system.

My project has two main focuses:

  1. Last year’s M.Eng. student reported that there were notebooks of water quality samples at the GWCL Water Quality laboratory that have not been adequately entered into a computer and analyzed. Here is Tamale, I am working to enter the data into a database that can be used to better understand the water quality of the system in the past and that can continue to be used by GWCL in the future to better monitor the water quality.
  2. I want to create a theoretical model using EPANET of how water should be flowing through the pipes. This model can then be compared to actual pressure and flow data collected by GWCL in order to determine places where NRW may be leaving the system. I also hope that once in place, this model can be a valuable tool to the GWCL in the future.

By better understanding the current water quality situation and by reducing NRW so more revenue would be available to expand the system, I hope to be able to provide cleaner, safer water to the people here in Tamale.

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