Tuesday, February 12th 2019 (Uganda)

Today we visited two water treatment plants. One was a conventional plant that takes water from the lake. Here they were doing an expansion and we saw a plant that was undergoing construction. We also ate random berries Yuehao found in a bush on the ground. Hopefully we don’t die! (They were aptly named ground cherries and were very good),

At the current plant they explained to us how the treatment processes they used worked and the how once the new plant was online how the old plant would be used. This plant worked pretty much the same way as the one at base camp we saw yesterday. This plant has a capacity of 300-400 cubic meters per day.

After that we went to lunch with Jean Baptiste and Silvia the people in charge of water management for the Nakivale camp. During that lunch some members of our team used that opportunity to learn more about the plant operations, Gabi our wonderful TA used the opportunity to make fun of Mike for drinking his Coca-Cola too fast.

The next plant we visited pumped groundwater. This plant pumps groundwater 500m up a hill into a sand filter and then from there gravity is used to send it to the spigot used by the refugees. Team 3 drive up in one of the trucks to check out the filter and the rest of us ran our water quality tests and interviewed the community. We got a lot of information about water availability at the source. The source turned out to be pretty good. The only major problem was that the water table would fall below the pump during dry season and there would be no water.

We also went with one family to there home where they told us about their daily life and thought it was really funny we wanted to see their wash basin. The intermittency of the water source was a big issue for them because one of the other sources they went to for water was the lake. When they took water from the lake the people who own the land around the lake make them pay.

Plant under construction

Current plant

Landscape around the plant no lions 🙁

Author: Michael Boetel

Monday, February 11th 2019 (Uganda)

Starting our first day of field work, we first drove to the office of the Prime Minister where we were formally welcomed into the country for our efforts. As Amos, the director of the Nakivale and Oruchinga camp explained the government of Uganda’s commitment to improving the camps, Peter expressed his gratitude for allowing us to conduct research in the settlement, outlining his motivation to make sure our research would not go without tangible change within the community.

After driving another hour towards the settlement, we were greeted by the assistant to the commander of the UNHCFR camp associated with the office of the prime minister of Uganda who explained the current conditions of the camp. Currently, there are 102,000 refugees consisting of mostly French speaking residents who all have the potential to receive full Uganda citizenship. The government’s role in the camp comprises providing a plot of land for the refugees for farming and housing and arranging services through NGOs such as the World Food Programme and UNHCR. They are also in charge of security and policing within the camp to ensure the safety of the refugees. Unlike refugee settlements in other countries, Uganda’s government encourages the citizens of the camp to farm their own land in order for families to use new skills to bring back to their home country. The Uganda refugee camps also differ in their policies to allow citizens to grow their own food when WFP donations are not sufficient.  Although the government arranges services for the refugees, there are various outside players. NGO’s, for example, provide the funds for water, food, and construction of infrastructure within the camp.  The camp has been around for 60 years consisting of 27 villages, and there is a census every three years conducted at the camp. It was clear driving through the settlement’s dusty roads, there were many families and local businesses within the camp, and we were frequently greeted by the residents as we passed.

Once we spoke with the leaders of the settlement, we arrived at the Basecamp Water Treatment Plant to learn about the water treatment and distribution process the camp employs. Hearing from the operations manager of the water treatment plant, Jean Baptiste, we listened and took notes as he walked us through the treatment methods already in place. Collecting from Lake Nakivale, the water is pumped through a galvanized iron pipe to pre-chlorination tanks where alum, chlorine, and soda ash is added before flocculation and sedimentation. As we familiarized ourselves with the plant more and more, it was clear that Jean Baptiste was eager to see improvements made within the camp, always willing to explain things twice if needed to us if we didn’t understand or wanted clarification on the current dimensions and materials used to construct the plant.

There are currently five treatment plants in the Nakivale settlement, three of which use raw lake water and hand pumps while the other two are motorized from groundwater. Basecamp is the largest of the plants with a capacity of 600,000-700,000 L/day supplying water to 89,207 residents at 17-18 L per refugee per day. For many of the residents, the walk to the nearest water tap is 500 m, and there are still many challenges within the settlement to address in terms of water access. In order for improvements to be made, Jean Baptiste would like to prioritize increasing the capacity of the plant, adding more chemicals, acquiring more fuel and generators to power the plant, and extending the pipelines. Though the amount of work felt overwhelming, we all wanted to work to see the improvements were implemented.

Our time visiting basecamp, collecting samples, and performing field tests on the raw source water and treated water from the plant ended with us traveling to the center of the camp for lunch, where we had the chance to speak more with Richard, Peter, and Jean Baptiste. We all loved trying the different cuisines we were starting to grow accustomed to while learning more about the language and customs of the cultures within the settlement.

After lunch, we split into two groups to take samples from the community water taps and survey the residents on the quality of their water. Surrounded by Gerry cans in rows, the tap operated systematically with children sliding cans down the rows as each was filled. With Richard as our translator, we were able to speak with members of the Water Committee at the tap and ask them questions about the biggest challenges their community was facing with water supply. In terms of quality, most residents had no complaints, however, the committee reported the capacity of the water was barely sufficient to meet the needs of the entire community.

Our long first day of field work ended with all of us tired from the heat and activity, but as soon as we got back to the hotel, there was still a lot of lab work yet to do. Dividing into groups after dinner, we tested the samples collected from the raw source water of the lake, the basin at the plant, the chlorinated and treated water, and the two taps we visited. For some of us, it was our first time using the titrators and calorimeters, but by the end of the night, each of us had learned something new.The lab work ended our first day, but we were ready to return to the camp the next day and learn how we could work to meet the growing needs of the community.

Author: Amanda Darling

Sunday February 10th (Uganda)

After arriving late to the Golf Course Hotel on Saturday night, the course group was allowed a late morning start. We ate breakfast and were introduced to Peter Luswata and two of his assistants; Diana Bamurangye and Joan Tumusiime. Peter Luswata is the course’s main contact in Uganda. He takes the yearly design reports that UIUC students complete at the end of CEE 449 and implements the solutions outlined with modifications to better suit the actual conditions of the communities they are intended to benefit.

His two assistants will prove to be very useful resources during our time in Uganda. Diana speaks 7 languages and will work as a translator on our visits to the refugee camp of Nakivale and the host community. She will also prove to be an important source in learning to respectfully communicate and interact with the people we meet throughout the trip. Within minutes of meeting her, she taught the group greetings and how to express thanks in Ugandan and Swahili, and what languages are spoken in certain districts of Uganda.

Joan graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the Ugandan Christian University in Mokono. Her background will be helpful in communicating with water treatment plant operators and technicians, getting a sense of norms in water treatment in urban vs. rural areas in Uganda, and how Nakivale’s treatment compares.

Around noon, we set off from our hotel in Kampala to Mbarara; an almost 300 km drive. With such a long trip, we had plenty of time to enjoy the scenery of the countryside and observe dozens of rural communities along the route. For lunch, we stopped at Flamingoz Joint Bar and Grill in Kayabwe, which is known for lying directly on the equator. We ordered a mix of local and international foods: chicken sandwiches, chapati, samosas, cassava, matoke, posho, and chicken piece. While waiting for our food, we got to witness the highly business-driven Peter in action. He made his way to the kitchen to speed up food preparation and serving in somehow the most positive and motivating way. Before leaving, we made sure to get pictures in front of a large circular equator landmark.

Several hours later, we made it to the Lake View Resort Hotel, checked in, showered, and had dinner. Before heading to bed, TA’s and students worked to prepare materials for the field. This included measuring out chemicals, calibrating sensors (all the probes and the fluoride titrator), and packing bags with all necessary materials for our first day of field work in Nakivale.

Author: Javier Mulero

Friday, February 8th & Saturday, February 10th, 2019 (Uganda)

9 am start to the day today! We met in Crane Bay at Newmark and after everyone had double checked that we had our passports and yellow books, Alana and friends finally arrived (18 minutes late to be exact). We began loading the bus with our luggage and left for O’Hare airport while listening to Africa by Toto, of course.
After about a two and a half hour drive we arrived and waited in the front of the airport for check in to open because Gabi planned for us to be there a short four hours before departure. We received our seat numbers, and I’m still convinced Gabi was punishing George by putting my seat next to his, but thankfully Anisa was there to make sure I didn’t bug him too much. Together we walked the terminal twice before deciding where to eat and finally settled on Mexican food, which is arguably the worst food to eat before being stuck on a plane for nine hours but everyone agreed it was worth the risk.
The first plane ride departed at around 4:30 pm and it was a full 7 and a half hours of game play for my row, and about four hours worth of my loud card shuffling to make sure everyone was wide awake to hear me continuously beat George in Yaniv. However, after a winner takes all bet, George stole my brownie and he’s still holding it hostage five days later (George, please give it back or eat it because you’re wasting my brownie). 7 and a half hours later we landed at midnight Chicago time 7 am Amsterdam time.
We had around two hours before our plane to Uganda departed, so we went to brush our teeth and grab some European food while we had the chance. After wandering around Amsterdam’s giant airport, we settled on Amsterdam Bread Co. and got a variety of pastries and sandwiches. We boarded and played some card games, but I was unconscious for the next six hours, so I guess we’ll never publish what happened during that time period.
We finally landed in Uganda at 10 pm their time and made our way through customs. They wrote in my passport Male instead of Female, so that’s good to have on my official documentation. After customs we grabbed all of the equipment and our luggage from baggage claim and stepped outside for the first time in about 24 hours. It was a crazy feeling to finally be in Uganda and for most of us, be in Africa for the first time. We bused for about an hour to our hotel, sadly I will not be sharing my experience because again I was dead asleep in the back seat.
After we got to the hotel everyone couldn’t stop talking about how nice it was and how excited we were to be able to lay down soon. Of course, food out weighed the fact we’d barely slept and we waited for two hours for dinner to be prepared. The food was amazing even though we had to be careful about what we ordered and ate, and it was a great start to the amazing food Uganda had to offer us for the rest of our trip. Immediately after putting our forks down people started heading up to shower and sleep one by one. Overall, it was a tiring but great start to the adventure we would have in Uganda!
– Author: Ashley Klauck

Friday, March 2, 2018 (Puerto Rico)

(by George Gunter and Runze Liu)

Today was the group’s first day off of lab work since we arrived in Puerto Rico, and we capitalized on the opportunity to visit the island’s premier engineering school: University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez. Throughout the week Madeline Torrez had been helping us navigate our way through the mountain sides of Puerto Rico, and today she showed us her home institution where she teaches as a Professor in the Chemical Engineering Department.

When we first arrived at UPRM, professors in the college of engineering gave us a presentation about major research initiatives at the university. They ranged from material science research projects focused on membrane design to education efforts in local schools to try and promote students in Puerto Rico to consider careers in Engineering and the Sciences.

In addition to presentations from professors at UPRM we enjoyed the company and introduction to a number of undergraduate and graduate students in different science and engineering disciplines from chemistry to Biological and Chemical Engineering. We were treated to coffee (George was thrilled) and snacks. Along with local students, everyone enjoyed the fresh time.

After snack time, we had a great time visiting the UPRM campus.  Located at west edge of the island, UPRM has a fantastic tropical style. Walking along coconut palms, students became familiar with the university and its history.

It is said that Mayagüez rains every afternoon at 2pm, we were kind of “regretful” for missing that. So we took a great group photo at a landmark of UPRM with beautiful sunshine.

After a lunch of seafood along a beach, we went back to UPRM visiting their environmental engineering lab. Graduate students of UPRM introduced research they are focusing on and what equipment they have. One of their highlighted research areas is experimenting on filters with plastic media. They also introduced research about UV light disinfection and groundwater contaminant removal.

At night, we went on an adventure exploring local life experience in Ponce. Students bought some souvenirs and enjoyed live music there. It was a special experience enjoying live heavy metal music performance with zero distance. (and without headphones).


Thursday, March 1, 2018 (Puerto Rico)

(by Meghan Drew and Nicole Loza)

The travel team woke up on March 1st ready to explore different communities in Villalba and interact with the community members. The team gained an additional member today – Adrian, the 12-yr old son of one of the team members, decided to follow in his parents’ footsteps and help the team interact with the community members. After a hardy hotel breakfast, the team travelled to Sierritas and met Esteban – the vice-president of the water board who showed the CEE 449 team around the community:

At the first pit stop, the team sampled water from a tank that supplies the water for 150 homes in Sierritas. The tank is gravity fed from a source up the mountain. No treatment is done besides a wide filter at the entrance of the intake pipe to block leaves or other large debris. The only way to sample the water was to climb to the top of the tank.

Volume of the tank and flow rate were estimated by Esteban, Kevin, Jacqueline, and Bernardo (pictured in this order).

Adrian oversaw Kevin’s data input to make sure the results were recorded accurately and learned how to use an Horiba probe.

The next pit stop on the team’s agenda included a hike up to the Sierritas water source and a few community member interviews. The students split; many hiked while a few with an expertise in Spanish stayed behind to conduct the interviews. The hike featured many physical obstacles for the team, but the guidance of Esteban and a special animal friend helped lead the way.

Once making it to the water source, the team took samples and performed on-site tests. The YSI and Horiba probes were used to test pH, dissolved oxygen, chloride, nitrate, and more, while fluoride and ammonia tests were also performed. A surprising discovery was the presence of free chlorine in the source water – the team suspects that the test reading is not in fact a value for chlorine concentration, since the presence of chlorine is unlikely in untreated surface water. Further analysis was required to elucidate these results.

After a successful hike back down to the Sierritas water tank and our cars, the team headed into the community to meet up with the team members who had been conducting interviews.  More water samples were taken at three of the community members’ homes. Interestingly enough, one of the water test results revealed data that varied from the other water samples in the communities. This may indicate that for this  community member the water comes from a different location than the source water (i.e PRASA).

The evening came to a successful close after microbial, metal, and alkalinity and hardness analysis were performed back at the hotel. By day 4, the students worked much more efficiently and were able to test all their collected samples fully within about an hour.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 (Puerto Rico)

(by Jacqueline Glattard and Melanie Holland)

Day 3 for the travel team was focused around testing the sampled water from Los Duros, Orocovis taken the day before. There were 9 samples taken from 3 sites: the spring, the homes in the community, and the Limones water treatment plant. Specifically, we tested for copper, iron, manganese, sulfate, sulfide, iodide, alkalinity, hardness, and pH. These tests require reagents and equipment that are not easily transported to the field, which is why it is lab work. The lab of the day was the hotel room 407.

It was interesting to observe the levels of contaminants in the samples, and note when they exceeded the World Health Organization standards.  This will be useful information for the team to take into consideration when developing our design recommendations.

We had a team meeting to discuss observations and possible project ideas, comparing interview notes and data to gain a stronger understanding of the potential challenges that lie ahead.

We ventured outside for lunch to enjoy the nice weather, ocean views and each other’s company. Tomorrow we will have the opportunity to visit another community in the municipality of Villalba to take samples, interact with community members, and evaluate the potential of a project there.

After two days of strenuous labor, we were able to do much needed loads of laundry, relax, and catch up on homework. For dinner we switched it up and ate seafood in Ponce, at a restaurant that overlooked the ocean. A highlight included the pumpkin and cheese flan, which we all shared and quickly devoured.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018 (Puerto Rico)

(by Mark Healy and Kevin Zhu)

Although we have become accustomed to the sounds of roosters calling, the metaphorical morning crowing came bright and early today. After a breakfast of scrambled eggs, French toast, and potatoes, we loaded all of our gear into the car to begin the long trip to Los Duros, a community in the Orocovis municipality.

Known as the geographical and cultural heart of Puerto Rico, Orocovis is the most distant community that we will be visiting from our base camp in Ponce. A legend regaled to us by our guides states that the winding mountainous roads are a result of drunken Spanish colonists following their equally clueless donkeys as they laid the stones connecting Ponce and San Juan.

Today, the hazards along the road are more hidden. Communities have put up signs to inform passing motorists that they have been without electricity for over 124 days. Schools without power have led to classes being taught in the dark or students having to travel long distances.

Along the way, we made a stop at a hospital facility in central Orocovis to meet Thalia Martinez (who would help us with translation) and Brenda Guzman (our Oxfam collaborator who has expertise in water treatment in the mountainous villages).

Upon arrival in Los Duros, the travel team collected all of our gear and began the trek up a steep hill and through a dense forest. After climbing over logs and under exposed pipes, we found a waterfall flowing into a stone basin. We learned that the water containment structure was built by a resident’s relative approximately 100 years ago and has served the community ever since.

Each student performed their own role and collected and tested water samples. Once all these tasks were completed, we returned to “La Casa de Ana” to take water samples from her home and have a lunch break. Along the way, we found some interesting new fruits to try.

We then performed interviews with several residents of the Los Duros community regarding their water usage, water concerns, and the effects of the hurricane. With the assistance of our guides Christian, Thalia, and Carlos, we were able to successfully translate our prepared questions.

These interviews taught us that most residents of Los Duros were not comfortable drinking the water coming from the river source. However, they used the water for everyday applications such as cooking and bathing. A resident of the community told us that only one in ten residents had access to water from the governmental aqueduct firm PRASA. Other residents stated that the hurricane was a terrifying experience and one that still affects their community today.

After leaving Los Duros, we stopped to visit a Riverbank Filtration Plant that utilizes chlorine disinfection. While at the plant, Professor Mariñas expressed concern that the specifications of the plant’s operation may lead to an excess concentration of chlorine in the water that was being supplied.

We ran tests at the filtration site before moving up the hill to see the holding tanks where water from the plant was held before being distributed to 250 homes in Orocovis.

With rain coming down, we made the long trip back to the hotel in Ponce to eat dinner, clean up, and run some more water quality tests.

Monday, February 26, 2018 (Puerto Rico)

Monday, February 26, 2018 (by Anneliese Paik and Rachel Banoff)

Ponce, Puerto Rico

After a long day of travel on Sunday, we finally arrived at our hotel in Ponce around 8 AM. After having some time to rest from the trip, we met for a conference with Brenda Guzman, our OXFAM collaborator, Madeleine Torres, our University of Puerto Rico Mayaguëz partner, and Fabian and Thalia, our guides. We planned out our week and which communities we would visit each day.

Afterwards, we ate dinner at a seaside restaurant. Lots of people ordered mofongo, a traditional Puerto Rican dish with mashed fried plantains topped with a creole stew of meat or seafood.

After dinner, we returned to the hotel and organized and calibrated our instruments for the sampling that would take place the next day.

On Monday morning, we were ready to go to Corea Metralla, a mountain community in Peñuelas. Our guides hit traffic on their way from San Juan and could not join us. Nonetheless, we loaded up our SUVs and drove through winding, steep, and narrow roads towards the water source of the community. A resident of the area, met with us to hike directly to the water source. He carved out the way with his machete, pointing out a plant used as an ingredient in cancer medicine.



We arrived at a rocky stream with a concrete structure with a filter. We collected our water samples and then hiked back up to the residential area.

Next, we explored an abandoned water treatment area, with a filtration unit (which George and Melanie climbed inside to sample) and an underground concrete water storage tank. Benito explained that by estimating the dimensions of the tanks, we could estimate the volumetric flow rate and the number of people served by the system.

After lunch, a community member showed us his property where he grows cacao, coffee, beans, and various other plants. We had learned that he used to grow and farm his own coffee, however, his entire farm got destroyed when Hurricane Maria occurred. He’s working slowly but steadily to rebuild his farm. We befriended his sweet and cuddly dog, Toby.

After dinner at the hotel, we conducted more tests on the water. We also discussed what we could improve upon to make the next few days go smoother.



Day 10: Headed Back to the USA

February 12th, 2017 by Brandon Lung

We arrived in the Entebbe airport and had to go through 3 different waiting areas since we arrived about 8 hours before our flight due to a delay.

We had dinner at about midnight Uganda time which is about 3pm Chicago time. I believe everyone took a small 6.5 hour nap until breakfast. This was until 7AM Uganda time and 10PM Chicago time. The airplane food was not that bad either. They gave us two meals for both our 8 hour flights. All meals came with deserts despite it being breakfast.

The nap felt great, however we’re going to feel jet lagged when we finally arrive back at U of I. We arrived at Amsterdam at 8:30AM Uganda time and 6:30AM Amsterdam time. We gained 2 hours. Some people slept, and some people decided to get homework done.

We had a small talent show that a few people decided to participate in. Wen and I played the piano. I also decided to rap for everyone. My “High” of today is that Gabi told me that I was a good water engineering student.

There’s a casino in the Amsterdam airport so we decided to donate a bit of money there.

Nearing the 24 hour mark of traveling home. This blog day is especially long because of the time change. 24 + 9 = 33 hours long travel blog.

On the plane to ORD, estimated time of arrival is 2:32PM it’s weird that Amsterdam departure time is 12:30pm and we will arrive to Chicago in about two hours for our 8 hour flight.

Everyone is tired and wants to go home, however not everyone is ready for school. This past week has flown by so fast that school due dates have crept up on many students and there is a rush of calculations and assignments being done furiously in the planes and airports.

We landed at O’Hare at about 2pm. My “Low” for today was the landing. It was very windy today, and over half of us got motion sickness and nearly puked.

Finally arrived in ORD. We had to go through US Customs and Border Protection before leaving the airport.

We got into our rental cars and drove to Champaign at 4pm. Everyone was tired because many haven’t slept since the first flight to Amsterdam.

We arrived at Newmark at about 6:30pm.

Total travel time back home was 34 hours. We had an amazing time. The experience was eye opening, and I am so glad that I got to spend a week learning and exploring Uganda with my classmates and teachers. It makes me realize how well we have it in America and how we should not take what we have for granted. This trip was definitely a highlight in my college career. Thank you to the department for funding this trip and thank you to our readers for following us throughout this blog! Suula balunji!