Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Minor Victory

One aspect that I have heard about Peace Corps life is that you must appreciate the small successes. I was fortunate to have one of those small success stories recently (aside from the fact that my Space Station story was recently featured on the official Peace Corps blog). Here is the latest small success that I am celebrating. It is minor, but still it feels good.

I've always been interested in history. As a youngster, I eagerly read a book about the history of my hometown of Parkersburg, WV. It included the scary story of when the city's two huge water tanks, situated high atop Quincy Hill at the time, collapsed in the middle of the night. This sent a wall of water surging down the hillside, destroying several houses and killing two of the occupants. The thought of peacefully sleeping in bed, only to be killed by an unexpected raging flood rushing down the hillside, stuck with me over the years—and revived itself here on Dominica.

I'm typically an early riser, and to get some exercise, I enjoy taking a quick walk up the hill to the highest point in our village at daybreak. I get some great views of the Atlantic and the surrounding mountains. This walk also takes me past the big concrete tank that supplies water to our village. Not very many villagers bother to climb all the way to the top, so I am one of the few who actually sees the water tank.

On some mornings, the tank is completely full because few people are using water overnight, yet the new water is always flowing into the tank. There is an overflow pipe at the top to allow any surplus to escape, but it was not working as intended. I talked to a couple of villagers about what I saw, and then I spoke with the head of the Village Council about it. He encouraged me to send a letter with pictures to the Dominican Water and Sewerage Company (DOWASCO) explaining the situation. Here is what I wrote (with the name of my village as well as the council president's name removed, per Peace Corps policy):


I would like to bring a potential problem to your attention. I talked to Mr. _____, the president of the ____ Village Council, and he encouraged me to contact you about this issue.

I am attaching some pictures which help to show the problem. The overflow from the ____ water tank does not hit the catchment basin and instead flows under the concrete tank, potentially undermining the tank's foundation (currently the water disappears directly under the tank and reappears through a hole in the dirt several yards down the hill). This undermining might lead to a catastrophic tank failure.

I am the Peace Corps Volunteer living in _____ and working at the school. I have an interest in this topic because a water storage tank on top of a hill in my hometown back in America collapsed, resulting in the deaths of two people. I would hate to see a similar tragedy in my new hometown.

I realize that this post-Erika timeframe is very busy for you, and certainly there are still lots of issues you face that might be more important right now. However, the good news is that this problem can be easily fixed, either by expanding the catch basin or simply lengthening the overflow pipe (or perhaps through some other alternative).

I hope that something can be done soon to alleviate the current situation. Thank you very much for your consideration!


David Kurtz

To my surprise, it didn't take all that long before DOWASCO fixed the problem, as shown in these pictures. They decided to run an extension to the overflow pipe with a 90 degree elbow taking the overflow all the way down to the catch basin.

It is a small victory, but it is nice to know that they read my message and agreed that something needed to be done. Best of all, it may have averted a potential catastrophe in my new hometown!

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