State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Sustainable water systems in rural Brazil


One of Columbia Water Center’s major programs, funded by the PepsiCo Foundation, is to develop water infrastructure in rural Brazil, in areas that have had no public water service.  CWC’s local Director, Francisco de Assis de Souza Filho, was recently in New York, and on April 23 gave a talk about ‘Designing Sustainable Water Systems: Case Studies from Brazil.’


The goal of the Columbia Water Center’s project in the Ceara region in eastern Brazil is to design resilient water systems for small communities, which might be adapted to a larger regional scale.  To be successful, they need to provide a consistent supply of good quality water, and be something that the community can manage and maintain by itself.

Filho said, “It’s a big problem to universalize the supply for this municipal area.  We have to try a lot of things, and simplify a lot of things (for the analysis) but in the end we need to have a comprehensive approach to do this kind of work.”

The team working with the five municipalities taking part in the project includes engineers to help resolve the technical issues involved in designing and constructing the water systems, and also a sociologist to facilitate the involvement of local residents and make sure that social and cultural factors are taken into account.

Filho said, “We have two baskets on this project.  One basket is, what kind of technology can you use for this model?  The second one is very important.  It’s about how you manage the system. What capability do we have in the field to operate and maintain the system? That’s the social sustainability of the system.”

CWC's Brazilian project team interviews residents.
CWC's Brazilian project team interviews residents.

The community of Ingá serves as an example of the process the project is following.  They began with a topographical study of the area, and a sociological assessment of the 65 person community, including personal interviews.  Since Ingá didn’t already have a community association established that could manage a water system, staff contacted a neighboring community to explore the possibility of integrating one system for the use of both.  In reality, it turned out that ongoing disagreements between the two settlements made it impossible to work together, so separate systems had to be designed.

Negotiations were undertaken to secure the commitment and support of Ingá’s mayor for the project, and to arrange for the donation of land from a private farmer, on which a portion of the infrastructure would be built.

The water system for Ingá was designed in tandem with the system for the neighboring community of Pedra Fina, and the contractor hired.  Work on building the infrastructure is currently underway.  The complementary systems, when completed, will serve 128 families, with 37 homes being provided metered connections directly to the system.

Prof Silvrano and the contractor discussing the Project details.
Prof Silvrano and the contractor discussing the Project details.

The process of scaling up the project to the regional level is even more complicated, and to make sure that it results in an efficient and sustainable system, project staff developed a statistical model including variables such as supply and demand, climate forecasting, risk, and tradeoffs.  The project is also considering how to improve the participatory process and develop training for local institutions and residents.

COGERH, the Brazilian institution in charge of regional water management, has been involved throughout the process and has already received training on the new approaches coming out of the project.  Training for system users will be carried out this summer.

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Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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14 years ago

[…] develops appropriate drinking water infrastructure in rural communities. (Learn more in this blog piece)  The following photos are from a progress report by local program staff, about the engineering […]