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From the Pantanal June 8, 2011

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BSF before paint job

BSF before we added bird paint.

We have an update!  Julie and Ethan have verified that we have clean water at PCER!

“…the biosand water filter (BSF) is producing drinkable water! Ethan and I have been drinking the BSF’s water for the past four days and our bodies have certified the water as potable. ” – PCER blog

Check out the hole blog entry for yourself at: http://sites.google.com/site/pantanalcer/in-the-news


Initial Reflections June 5, 2011

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This year’s trip was a perfect blend of work, fun, and learning.  With the building for the school and research station already built, we were able to dedicate all of our time to constructing a water filter that will be effective and accepted by the community.  Along the way, we found time to cool off and enjoy the beauty of the Pantanal by taking a swim break in the afternoon nearly every day.  The conversations and stories during mealtimes in the kitchen of the Jaguar Ecological Reserve taught us about Brazilian culture as well as how to speak Portuguese, Brasiliano, and Pantaneiro.  All of these meaningful experiences leave us longing to return and excited to get working on some new project ideas for next year.

When first arriving in Brazil, we believed a month’s time would be plenty to construct a biosand filter (BSF), but quickly remembered that nothing is as easy as it could be in the Pantanal.  The remote location makes it difficult access and leads to tasks taking longer to complete than would be expected.  For example, due to the severity of the rainy season, the road conditions on the Transpantaneira took our Kombi down and we were forced to leave it on the side of the road.  A mechanic was supposed to come down and fix it within a couple days but without transportation of his own he couldn’t make it for almost two weeks.  After this a month seemed like the perfect amount of time to achieve our goals.

Although the BSF design we used called for a metal mold to pour the concrete into, we were unable to find a welder in Poconé and thus were forced to adapt the design to a wood mold.  Pouring the concrete went well, but removing the mold proved to be tricky.  On our third try we finally got the result we wanted.  Look for a new BSF construction manual coming soon in the Design-Built-Test section that will give instructions on using wood molds for areas of the world where a welder is not readily available.

Once we got the mold as we wanted it the rest of the process went much smoother.  Using the sieves we constructed we sieved the sand and gravel to the desired specifications.  The sand was purchased at Construmax in Poconé while the gravel was taken from the side of the Transpantaneira.  Then we washed the sand and gravel to ensure they were ready to be used in the BSF.  The installation of the sand and gravel went quickly, with only minor adjustments needing to be made to ensure the siphon was working properly.  Our final touches included installing the lid and painting using what Brazilians call “burnt cement.”  “Burnt cement” is paint mixed with cement to provide a water tight, easy to clean surface on top of concrete.  After this, our BSF was ready to have the schmutzdecke (biolayer) be formed so the filter would be operating as efficiently as possible.  Julie and Ethan have graciously agreed to help us monitor the formation by performing bacterial tests on the effluent for the next few weeks.

Our last few days in Brazil were spent exploring and enjoying Brazilian culture.  On our final day in the Pantanal we were fortunate to experience a true “churrasco” (a Brazilian barbeque pronounced choo-haas-co).  It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, enjoying the company of our friends we made at the Jaguar Ecological Reserve.  We then traveled to Poconé where we said our goodbyes to our fellow soccer-loving friends at the Pousada Pantaneira before traveling north to Nobres for some sightseeing.  We were hosted in Nobres by our friends Claudio and Graziella on their 600 hectare soybean ranch.  They were extremely friendly and generous, sharing with us meat, fruits, and milk from their ranch as well as showing us the natural beauty of Nobres.  We explored caves and went swimming with fish in some of the clearest water in the world.  We were sad to leave for Cuiabà, but our last night in Brazil turned out to be fun as we unexpectedly ended up playing soccer at a sports club for a while.  Before hopping on the red-eye flight to Miami the next day we got a wonderful tour of Cuiabà from Tito.  We rode the bus around the city to see the zoo, Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso, and various markets.  It was a great way to end a fantastic trip.

As was the case last year, the generosity and graciousness of all of the Brazilians we encountered on our trip was remarkable.  We cannot give enough thanks to everyone for all that was done for us, but we will try.  First, thanks to Eduardo for all of the help in getting accommodations set up as well as for allowing us to construct everything on his reserve.  Next, thanks to Soene and Tika for cooking so many delicious meals and enforcing the rule that only Portuguese is spoken in their kitchen.  Thanks to Fransisco for sharing stories, helping us learn Portuguese, and for keeping the mood so light.  Thanks to Tom for being there whenever we needed an extra pair of hands in our construction, teaching us Portuguese, and for being a companion on all of our swimming adventures.  Thanks to Tito for providing so much comic relief, being a great guide in Cuiabà, and allowing us to crash at his place our final night.  Thanks to Claudio and Graziella for being so generous and helping show all of us a part of Brazil we had never experienced before.

We also need to thank many people back in the United States who helped make this trip possible for us.  First, thanks to Professor Margaret Wooldridge for providing so much wisdom and helping us with our designs.  Thanks to Professor Stephen Skerlos from the Multidisciplinary Design Minor for providing us with the support we needed to get this project off the ground.  Thanks to all of our friends and family who have supported us by reading the blog and those who have donated financially to the Pantanal Partnership.  Without you all, none of this would have been possible!  Thank you so much!!

Last, but most certainly not least, we thank Ethan and Julie for everything they have done for us.  Their organization and support made us feel comfortable at all times during the trip.  Without them, the Pantanal Center for Education and Research would never have been conceived.  The memories we made together were amazing and will never be forgotten.  We wish them the best of luck with the rest of their time in Brazil this summer and can’t wait to see them when they get back.

Look for more posts (and pictures!) soon.


Animal Lists May 25, 2011

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We’ve been really lucky this trip to come down in a very active time for animals.  Last year, we were here during a time when the water level was much lower.  Because of this, it seemed as though many animals concentrated along and around the river area (40km away from the site.)  This year the water is still high, giving many animal water highways to maneuver throughout a larger landscape.  Below is a partial list of the animals we have been lucky to see:

  • Jaguar
  • Giant River Otters
  • Neotropical Otter
  • Ocelot
  • Pantanal Horse (only horse in the world that can feed with its head underwater)
  • Caiman
  • Many small snakes
  • Caiman Lizards
  • Hyacinth Macaw
  • Jaburu
  • Toco Toucan
  • Snail Kite
  • Piranha
  • Capybara
  • Various Vultures
  • Soldier Ants
  • Various Ducks
  • More birds than I can remember the names for.

State of the PCER water systems. May 25, 2011

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We arrived at the site about three weeks ago to many visible changes after having been offsite for – the most of our team – an entire year.  This post is dedicated to our observations of how the site has been maintained in the past year.

Potable Water

The largest of these changes was the PCER building having been built.  It has two bathrooms and a kitchen sink, all being serviced by the water tower on the lodge side of the street.  All of this water is pumped from the swamp adjacent to the lodge.  There is no filtration of any sort between the swamp and the tap.

Currently the lodge has a pump to the swamp and to an artesian well.  The swamp water shows concentrations of E. Coli.  The artesian well has highly ferrous water that well exceeds the EPA’s secondary standard of 0.3 mg/L.  This well was augured last November, but quickly abandoned because of this fact.

Eduardo (the lodge owner) is thinking of digging another well – this time with a depth of approximately 8 meters – as well as building a new water tower and holding tank.

There is a well hole on the PCER side of the street.  It is no longer a viable option as the school’s main water supply because when the water line receded last year it showed that this well had been used as a garbage hole.  When we arrived onsite, the well was piled up to about a meter below surface level full of trash.  The employees of the lodge – who live in a house on the PCER site – have been using this well as a trash burning pit.  There usually a trash fire three times a week in this well.

The swamp behind the PCER site – similar to last year – had oil and diesel leaching into it from the generator that is located on the edge of the swamp.

Waste Systems

The previous year we built a quasi septic/leach field.  Our qualitative observations leave us to believe that this system is performing to at least a minimum standard of sight and smell.

We also dug – but soon abandoned because of the high water table – a different hole that would have served as the septic/leach field of the unbuilt phase 2.  This hole was left unfilled and has subsequently been filled with plastics and other pieces of trash.


-We believe that all existing and future buildings that form the PCER and Jaguar Ecological Reserve should be serviced by one main water source.  We believe that this will increase ease of monitoring and allow for greater efficiencies for all.

-Because all of the existing and potential water sources are down stream of the point sources of pollution, we advise a thorough impact assessment of the pollutants on the ground and service water surrounding PCER and the lodge.

-All dumping and burning of trash into the old well should stop as soon as possible. (note: luckily for us there are a group of Grahams Scholars coming down June 5th to build a trash incinerator.)

-Digging a new well could possibly unnecessary.  BSFs filter out approximately 90% of iron in water. Our BSF that we are building for drinking water at PCER will be shown to Eduardo as a model.  Putting a BSF(s) in line with the pump from the artesian well may achieve the levels of filtration that would allow for the current well to be potable.

Pantanal May 25, 2011

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Hello from pocone!

We’ve come back from the wilderness of the Pantanal for a day to gather more materials and make contact with the outside world. It’s been a crazy few weeks since we (Cory, Greg, Julie, Ethan and I (Micaela)) arrived in Brazil. Once we (finally) made it to the work site we buckled down to get the wooden mold built for the BSF. On site we have settled into an easy routine, waking up around 7:30 am getting breakfast in the lodge kitchen, working until 1230 when we break for lunch, after lunch we usually go for a swim, jumping off the bridge that is just up the road, the we work again until 5ish, shower and head over for dinner. We’ve been going to bed between 9 and 10 most nights which I find half wonderful and half ridiculous at first we told ourselves it was just to make up for finals week or because of the long days of travel, but now I think we’ve all accepted the early bedtime along with the rhythm of the pantanal.

As for the work itself, we adapted a design by CAWST for a metal filter mold into wood after determining that a metal mold wouldn’t really be feasible here. In the interest of sustainability and cost effectiveness, we used left over wood from the construction of the school, which after sitting out in a field for the better part of a year was not in the greatest shape. We got the mold built without any major problems, and attached frames to the sieves to start the long sifting process. After about 4 days of preparation poured the cement, again without any real issues, and left it to start curing over night. The next day, however, when we tried to remove the interior mold we found it to be inextractable. Several hours and several broken chunks of BSF found us resorting to matches and a squirty bottle of diesel to get it out. As one of my professors in the art school likes to say, ‘you must learn to kill your babies’, though we had worked long and hard on that first mold, we had to recognize its failure, and accept it for what we learned from the process of making it. The next morning, we pieced together a second mold from the scraps of our first, creating a collapsable interior as opposed to the original which screwed into place. This mold too came along with some speed bumps, but here we are, the concrete is cured, the interior is cleaned, the sand and gravel are washed, sifted and ready. When we arrive back at the lodge, we will fill it and begin the testing process.

We’ve also been helping Ethan and Julie prepare the school to open in July, painting the walls and laying bricks to partition the space into a: classroom, library, clinic, and lab space. We have our highs and lows for productivity, but overall we’ve been working pretty steadily. Hard to believe there’s only one week left!

Happy Early Mother’s Day! May 7, 2011

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From the whole team, a very happy Mother’s Day to all!

Happy Mom Day!

Cuiaba e Pocone! May 5, 2011

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[May 5th]

Bom Dia, da casa de Eduardo!

Eduardo's House Cuiaba

Eduardo, the owner of the Jaguar Ecological Reserve, picked us up earlier this afternoon from the Ciuaba Airport and treated us to a wonderful lunch of rice and beans at his house.  We’re hitting the ground running, with big talks of water towers, wells, pumps, and filters already being thrown about in Portuguese and English.  We are now waiting on a taxi to come and pick us up to take us to Pocone, a city of about 20,000 people on the northern edge of the Pantanal.


[May 6th]

Today in Pocone we collected information and estimates on our materials and supplies for the water system.  We went to a few construction stores and asked about prices and materials.  Nothing was bought today.  Once Ethan comes down with the newly bought bus tomorrow, we will buy our materials and make our way down to the Eco Lodge tomorrow!


Bom Dia de Miami May 4, 2011

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Hello All!

We – Cory, Ethan, Greg, Julie, and Micaela – have arrived safely into the Miami airport.  We arrived around noontime, and quickly got to entertaining ourselves for the 8 hour layover before our flight to Sao Paulo by using technology: (see picture below.)

Quick update:  We’ve finished our testing stateside and it shows that all of our designs are operating with very similar efficiencies.  We thereforewill implement the design that will be most easily built and maintained with local materials upon the re-inspection of the site when we get down there.

As well, I uploaded the 2011 Multidisciplinary Report detailing our trip for the purpose of informing the reader of our rough plans and agenda while in Brazil.

The latest schedule for us upon arrival (Which will be approximately 2pm Eastern time,) is for Cory, Micaela, Greg, and Julie to head down to Pocone while Ethan finds us an automobile that we will use to bus children to school in Cuiaba.

Until then,

Water Systems Team


Pre-Travel Greetings April 29, 2011

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So much has happened since our last update chronicling our summer 2010 travels to the PCER site and the Pantanal as a whole!  To be comprehensively updated on the larger organizations development, I suggest the blog that Julie Bateman and Ethan Shirley keep (a link can be found in the left-hand column.)  The updates that they chronicle lead to a large milestone for our team; the first day of classes at PCER.  Pending approval from the Secretary of Eduation – school should begin in May/June!

Updates for the Water Systems team include: a new addition to our team (Welcome Micaela!), new testing on bio-sand filter (BSF) designs, and approval for our travel and design proposal for 2011!  The team will be traveling down to the Pantanal on the fast approaching date of May 4, 2011.  We are excitedly awaiting our departure on what will be – for some – our second design-build-test trip in the Pantanal.  For others (Micaela,) they are extremely excited to get into the heart of the Pantanal and start getting their hands dirty.

Opening the school will be extremely rewarding for our team, but also an anxious time for us in terms of making sure that the systems we’ve spent so long to develop work perform for the children when they get there.

Please stay tuned for more updates as we get closer to our departure.  As well, we will be updating the blog throughout our stay in Brazil for the month of May.


Pictures July 18, 2010

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Here are a few of my [Greg’s] pictures.  There’s a chance I’ll make a picasa which will have more pictures, but for now here are a few – mostly focusing on the work we did.  For some really great pictures, I suggest you look at the picasa connected to the architect’s blog.  Take a look! http://picasaweb.google.com/JamesLChesnut

The rightly named, Honey Pit

The Old Honey Pit, filled in by hand by Cory and Greg

Septic Hole for Phase I

Gravel for Bio-Sand Filter.

Brick laying in the base of the septic hole for Phase I

Laying Bricks for Phase I Septic Pit

Sand for the bio-sand filter

Main Lodge, our tents are about twenty meters to the right of this pic.

Empty Filter Container with Diffuser Railing and outlet tube

Gravel and Water before the sand.

Pouring Sand

Chapada Falls

View from Chapada

The cowboy is not dead in Brazil. This herd is about 1000-1500 big.

View from the end of the monkey path

Tree in a swamp where hundreds of white birds would sleep.

Phase II