Auburn students develop irrigation systems for Bolivian village

BoliviaAUBURN UNIVERSITY – A group of nine Auburn University students, their professor and an alumna spent a week earlier this month in the mountains of Bolivia, developing and implementing irrigation systems to make life better for the residents of Quesimpuco.

The remote village lies in a rugged and rocky area and receives very little rain during the South American winter. To help improve crop production, the Auburn team designed two projects: a gravity-fed irrigation system and a hydroponics demonstration unit. Both are aimed at managing the limited amount of water that is available while providing enough to meet demand.

“Our students are introducing the science and technology in a way that meshes with what the local people are already doing,” said Steve Duke, team leader and professor of chemical engineering. “We have tried to listen to the needs and requests of the people of the village and engineer solutions to their challenges.”

One of those challenges is irrigating the crops that struggle to grow on the terraced, rocky sides of the mountains. Over multiple visits to the village, Auburn students have been creating a system that will employ a storage tank to collects water from a nearby waterfall. The water will then be distributed to the crops at the appropriate flow rate.

“The people here do not live on a money market system,” said civil engineering major Travis Bugg. “They grow everything they eat. We’re trying to help them increase their yield because the threat of starvation here is real.”

Other Auburn team members built a small-scale hydroponics system that recycles water across crop roots growing in gravel beds. The team worked with local high school students and others from the village and showed them another way to water crops and keep them thriving.

“This is Auburn’s third trip to Quesimpuco,” said chemical engineering major Whitney Brown. “We have a commitment to this community and are hoping to improve their way of life each time we come.”

Photos and a video feature can be found here.

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