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Potable water supply for Piso Firme

The water storage tower at Piso Firme

Drink water supply for Piso Firme, Bajo Paraguá, close to the Brazilian border was in 1998 our first large project in Bolivia and at the same time a difficult one: the provision with a system of running drinking water for the remote community of Piso Firme as a return service for the cooperation of the villagers in nature conservation. This enterprise was threatened various times with failure, due to financial problems and other obstacles, but in the end was finished successfully.

It began with an agreement which our, at that time, Bolivian partner organization had arranged with the villagers, which said that a large area in the neighbourhood would be allocated as a nature conservation area and our group should receive a generously dimensioned plot of land at the riverside  in order to build a lodge there for visitors and for us. In exchange we were to help the village with various projects of development of which the drink water supply was to be the most important.

The storage tower is being postioned after its arrivalIn order to obtain a uniform water pressure for the place, scattered on several square kilometres, a steel water tank had to be transported from Santa Cruz de la Sierra a distance of 750 kilometres to be set up here. This tank has a height of 16 meters and a capacity of 24,000 litres of water. Transport was carried out by a special vehicle on a partially adventurous jungle - track, leading to Piso Firme. Even today I ask myself how that transport could have arrived, having to pass over several bridges that merely consisted of some tree trunks or thick planks laid across the beds of creeks. In any case the huge piece of steelwork arrived. With a group of workers who had come along it was to be lifted from a horizontal position into a vertical one screwed tightly onto a concrete foundation. To help, a couple of pulleys and an iron ram had been brought along. The workers quickly succeeded to bring the tower onto an angle of about 30 degrees, but from there it did not move one degree further. The assembly stand bent and the tower with the large container at the upper end showed itself pointing into the air without moving anywhere. Nobody knew how to get the thing lifted, but the attempts continued until the sun was descending to the horizon. In this moment the chairman of our, at that time, Bolivian partner organization. Remember his acquaintance with the manager of a fifty kilometres away sawmill, fifty kilometres away. He therefore decided to go there and returned some hours later together with a large shovel excavator. In spite of objections that the shovel arm would not hold the weight and the tower could fall and kill a few people the daredevil driver of the excavator put his machine under the obliquely lying tower and very slowly positioned the shovel. At first nothing happened, then almost too much, because the vehicle began to slip backwards. Then, after much trying, the tower was lifted inch by inch, reached the dead point by sunset and tipped over exactly into the holes on the bolts anchored in the concrete. Accomplished this, the so far largest technical challenge of our project was mastered.

The tank was to stand another two years without functioning, as a symbol of our efforts but without a visible sign of progress, because the partner organization or rather its chairman, had discreetly withdrawn without informing us, retaining a generous advance payment from us, which was intended for the construction of the tube system.

Preparing the water storage tower for erectingBefore had begun work on the plot of land at the riverside, which was intended to become the site of the lodge. Five cabañas were covered already with palm tree roofs, for which money had been spent. Leaving everything, would have meant to tell the other donors in Germany that their money had been wasted and furthermore disappoint the people of Piso Firme. I decided to go, together with our Bolivian colleague, Sra. Maribel Añez to travel to Piso Firme speak to the authorities of the place and find out, if we could finish it alone by ourselves. In a plenary assembly of the place, the people (naturally) agreed that we should continue without the gentlemen from Santa Cruz and I dare say that from there on all obstacles, of which there were many, could be dealt with in a more efficient way. After having been confronted by the responsible administration at San Ignacio with all kinds of topographers and planning engineers, we chose to find help ourselves and had the good  the good to meet an efficient all round technician (George Torrico), who without expensive planning studies, without any drawings and topography helped get the installations, meaning to connect pumps and generator and to bury and connect the tubing and set up tapping so that four years after first talking about it, tasty clear water flowed to all parts of the village, whose inhabitants formerly only had the water from the river and a well furnished with a hand pump. We were lucky but also had been tenacious.

Children at the water tap at Piso FirmeThe villagers were very content , assisted us were they could, and we are still on good terms with them. Our rustical lodge at the riverside has been finished and looks very picturesque. Regrettably hardly anybody is visiting there, maybe its too far off the track, off the "gringo-trail", no explorers of endangered species or maybe even spiders or wants to shoot interesting movies, although the Location is very suitable for such purposes. All our intentions to contact well known institutions go a negative reply, which leaves the conclusion of a certain arrogant ignorance. Cooperation between Piso Firme is a deal in which both sides are seeking their advantage. Although certain changes have taken place, the necessity to regard the environment as in need of protection, whereas until now it had been only a source of materials and alimentation, is not easy to communicate.

Nevertheless a great treat for all of this first accomplishment is the mellow water of a pleasant taste, which flows from the tap at any time. So far we are on a good tack, but only if we can some day pass on the job to younger ones.


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