Local company brings clean water to African village

By on February 19, 2009

by Susan O’Neill
Sugar Grove resident Ed Beaulieu can give his customers in the United States plenty of reasons why it is a good idea to capture rainwater and use it for their gardens.

Beaulieu created the rainwater harvesting system for Aquascape, Inc. On a recent trip to Ghana, in West Africa, Beaulieu and his team demonstrated how the system, with a few modifications, can literally save lives in a developing country.

Aquascape is a St. Charles-based company that specializes in water gardens, including ponds, fountains and waterfall features. Recently the company diversified its product line to include rainwater harvesting systems. The systems capture, filter and store rainwater for future irrigation of plants and lawns.

Beaulieu said the use of rainwater not only saves money on water bills, it keeps the water from ending up in sewer drains, picking up pesticides and other pollutants along the way. Eventually, the polluted water ends up in our streams and rivers, creating dead zones where fish and other living things cannot survive. The aquifers that supply our water are not being recharged, and many areas are running out of water, including some in the United States, he explained.

Women and young girls in the Ghanian village of Kuve spend hours each day collecting water from the nearby Volta River, Kuve’s only source for water, said Aquascape, Inc. owner Greg Wittstock’s wife Carla, president of the Aquascape Foundation.

The water they bring back to the village is filled with bacteria and is not safe for drinking. Carla said it carries water-borne diseases and many children die before the age of five.

“They don’t know it’s not normal to have stomach pains and diarrhea,” she said.

Carla said that Aquascape, Inc. makes its living from water and does very well. To discover that so many people do not even have access to clean drinking water is a huge disparity that does not seem right.

Team Ghana members (below) included (front row) Karen and Dayton Wright, (left of plaque, from left) Tim Muttoo, Isaac Ferrell, Alan Schell (right of plaque) Al Lentz, Lauri Mitchell, (behind plaque, from left) April Dugan, Tim Bottoms, Ed Beaulieu, Keith Robinson, Roberto Cosme, Dale Vnuk, Carla Wittstock, Bob Blasing and Glenn Ferrell.

Team Ghana members (below) included (front row) Karen and Dayton Wright, (left of plaque, from left) Tim Muttoo, Isaac Ferrell, Alan Schell (right of plaque) Al Lentz, Lauri Mitchell, (behind plaque, from left) April Dugan, Tim Bottoms, Ed Beaulieu, Keith Robinson, Roberto Cosme, Dale Vnuk, Carla Wittstock, Bob Blasing and Glenn Ferrell.

Carla learned of the need in Ghana through the IN Network, a Christian organization in Michigan that connects partners in evangelism, discipleship and community development. IN Network recently built a school in Kuve, but the school was without water and electricity.

Beaulieu, vice-president of Aquascape’s foundation, said the foundation worked with the Canadian company Genieye Systems, Inc. to create a rainwater harvesting system that uses Genieye’s ionization manifold to purify the water. The ionization system, powered by a solar panel, allows it to work in places without access to electricity, such as Kuve.

“That’s when we nailed down a very simple solution to a complicated problem,” Carla said.

Carla and Greg Wittstock, Greg’s mother Lauri Mitchell, Beaulieu and two other Aquascape employees, Roberto Cosme and Tim Bottoms, joined a number of water landscape contractors from around the country in January to build a rainwater harvesting and purification system for Kuve’s new school.

The team of 15 paid their own way to Ghana and worked alongside the local villagers. Beaulieu said that word of what they were doing spread to nearby villages and each day, more and more people showed up to watch, and then to help.

He said that because Ghana was a British colony, English is widely spoken, making communication with the local people easy.

“We created some great bonds,” Carla said.

Beaulieu said the women carried 90,000 pounds of sand, the equivalent of two semi-trucks full, on their heads for use as back-fill.

The rainwater is captured from the roof of the school, and the pump is power by a solar panel on the roof. Beaulieu said the workers ran into a problem when they realized the building was pitched 16 inches in the wrong direction. They had to dig an underground trench in hard, packed-down clay to reroute the water and add 200 more feet of piping.

Beaulieu said that luckily, their top contractors were involved in the project.

“They have a never-say-die attitude,” he said.

When they were finished, they hooked everything up to the solar panel to charge a 12-volt car battery that operated the switches to activate a small electric pump. The pump moved the water through the ionization system, sterilizing it and killing off any pathogens and bacteria.

When it came time to test the system, the local women pitched in again, carrying 1,500 gallons of water from the river on their heads.

“The women definitely hold their own,” Carla said.

The villagers held a dedication ceremony on the last day to honor the workers. Carla said they built a beautiful dedication plaque and gave all of them hand-woven scarves to wear during the celebration.

Beaulieu said it was a wonderful feeling to provide 500 children with safe drinking water. He said that even though it is a simple system, it will capture 100,000 gallons of water a year.

With a clean supply of water, the school will be able to provide a meal each day for the children. Not only will it save lives, but the hours it will save the women every day can now be used to create more economic opportunities for themselves, and more children will be able to go to school.

“It was an amazing experience,” Beaulieu said. “The people were wonderful. The sights, the sounds, the smells and the temperature; it’s one of those trips that words and pictures can’t do justice.”

Since they have been home, Beaulieu said they have spoken about their trip and their hopes for the future at several Rotary clubs and other organizations. He said they would like to go back to Ghana, and they have talked about building the systems in Columbia, the Dominican Republic and Kenya.

“There are lots of people interested in working with us,” he said. “We’re a successful company, and I would love to leverage our strengths and give back to others less fortunate. There’s a huge, huge need.”

For more information about the Aquascape Foundation, visit www.aquascapeinc.com/aquascapefoundation or call (630) 659-2064.

For more information about IN Network, visit www.innetworkusa.org.

Top photo: Members of the Ghanian village of Kuve (above) gather around the new rainwater harvesting system that will capture, filter and store clean water for daily use. Courtesy Photos