LONOKE, Ark. – Kurtis Daniels holds up a small pile of salt, enough to fit in the palm of his hand. It’s only a few cents worth of common table salt, but with a combination of ingenuity and technology, it’s the key ingredient to generating 10,000 gallons of clean drinking water. On December 3rd, rural water experts from six states gathered at the Arkansas Rural Water Association’s office in Lonoke to learn how to use this technology during emergencies and natural disasters.
Daniels and Doug Lark are part of WaterStep, an organization that brings clean drinking water solutions to developing countries. WaterStep’s mobile water systems are built to be simple, rugged, and able to run on limited resources – qualities necessary for working in developing countries; that also make the systems perfect for emergency response. In October, during the National Rural Water Association’s WaterPro Conference, HD Supply Waterworks donated two of the WaterStep mobile water systems to NRWA as part of their sponsorship of the organization.
“We’re really excited,” said Kevin Renckens, HD Supply Waterworks Director of National Sales. “We think this is a great opportunity to provide help for communities in emergency situations.”
WaterStep systems have already been serving communities in developing nations for nearly a decade, where they are saving lives.
“I first got into this, because a friend of mine showed me a demonstration of the chlorinator,” Daniels explained. “He told me: ‘Did you know that 25,000 people die every day from water-borne illnesses?’ I told him that couldn’t be right. He told me it was the equivalent of loading a 747 full of people and crashing it to the ground every 30 minutes.
“I looked up the numbers and he was right. After he demonstrated this system, I knew we had a way to make a difference.”
The mobile system’s potential to provide support during emergencies in this country is enormous. All the necessary components are stored in a small rolling cart, weighing only 445 pounds, and everything can be assembled in roughly 15 minutes. Yet, the system has the power to treat 1,250 gallons of water in one of its bladder tanks in 30 minutes.
The heart of the system is the M-100 Chlorinator. It looks like a simple jar of plastic and dangling hoses. Inside, though, are a pair of electrodes and a gas-permeable membrane that can convert a handful of salt, some water, and the electricity from a marine 12-volt battery into enough chlorine gas to treat thousands of gallons of water.
“We don’t have to bring in a train or boat loads of bleach and chemicals,” said Daniels, the WaterStep Director of Field Operations. “Salt is everywhere, it’s commonly available, and it’s cheap.”
The pound of salt used in the training session was bought for $.43 at a local store. Daniels mixes the salt into a brine solution and connects the chlorinator to a DV battery. Bubbles of hydrogen gurgle though the solution and a fog of gas begins collecting at the top of the chlorinator. In just a few minutes of operation, the membrane system is producing chlorine gas from salt, water, and electricity.
“We chlorinate to five parts per million, and that’s overkill,” Daniels said. “But, if we can get it to five parts per million and have 30 minutes of contact time, then if the chlorine level drops, it tells me a lot about the water. It tells me I need to filter the next batch.”
The mobile water system includes a filtration attachment that can be connected to the hoses at the water source. The package includes a 100 micron and a 25 micro disk filter.
The filtration attachment is made to quick-connect to the hoses filling the bladder tanks, but the system includes adapters that allow it to be connected to our source. Part of the system’s effectiveness is that the parts can be configured to numerous ways to fit each situation.
“In an emergency situation, your fire department will be best to bring the water to you,” Daniels said. “These will connect right to their pumpers and if the water is clear, you can connect the chlorinator in-line and chlorinate as you fill the tanks.
“In another case, you can use the pump to draw from a body of water like a pond or river, and filter it, then treat it in the tank,” Lark added.
The system can then distribute through common connections into portable containers or other applications. It can also supply water to Red Cross trailers, shower stations, or decontamination trailers. The chlorinator can also be connected to “water buffalo” towed storage tanks that are commonly brought in by National Guard units during emergencies, disinfecting those water supplies right in the tank.
“Anything you can think of, you can arrange the parts to do it,” Daniels said.
The system remains simple despite its power and flexibility. Most connections use a quick connect system and are color-coded for easy installation. Major parts have labels to ensure easy use.
“So you fill it to the line that says ‘Fill to Here,’” Daniels explains, holding up the chlorinator. “You pour the salt water into the spout that says ‘Pour Salt Water Here.’ It’s not rocket science.”
The entire system can be run by a hand pump, a power outlet, or with the included 12 volt DC marine battery. The package includes a battery charger and folding 60 watt solar cell capable of running the entire system while charging the battery. The rolling cart was selected to meet shipping specifications, ensuring there are no extended pieces that can be damaged in transport.
Every aspect of the system has been considered, engineered, and tested in real communities throughout the developing world. Even the byproducts from the chlorinator can be put to use. One side of the membrane produces sodium hydroxide, or lye, which can be used to kill flies and mosquito larva. The other side of the membrane creates a chlorine solution similar to bleach that can be used as a disinfectant or cleaning agent.
“A real world application you might encounter in a disaster is with Red Cross food trailers,” Lark said. “We know that in Sandy and in Joplin the Red Cross was struggling to find enough bleach to keep their kitchen trailers clean.”
The two water systems donated by HD Supply will be stored in Arkansas and New York, where they can be dispatched to other areas in case of emergency. The plan for the Arkansas unit is to house it in a small covered trailer that can be towed to systems in need.
“This is not our unit, this is everyone’s unit,” said Dennis Sternberg, executive director of the Arkansas Rural Water Association. “We’re all interested in this for the same thing, to help our members. This is just one more piece of equipment to do that.”
Nearly twenty rural water specialists from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee attended the training. The second WaterStep unit donated by HD Supply will be located in New York. Training is scheduled for New York Rural Water Association and surrounding states.