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Detroit engineers work to provide clean drinking water around the world

DETROIT – Many of us take for granted being able to walk into the kitchen and turn on a faucet that pours clean water. But millions of people around the world don't have that, and are forced to live with dirty drinking water.

The Detroit chapter of Engineers Without Borders (E.W.B) is working to change that. They want to help make it possible for everyone in the world to have access to clean, safe drinking water.

"There is no reason that these problems should remain unsolved around the world," said E.W.B president and volunteer engineer Dan Royal. 

Royal is one of eight local engineers that are volunteering through the non-profit. The group's latest efforts are focused on bringing clean water to Laguna de Apoyo, a small village in Nicaragua. The village is located on the edge of a lake, inside a volcanic crater.

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"We're are trying to make a difference in people's lives where they have so little," said project leader Bruce Nieman. 

By day, Nieman works at DTE Energy. Nine years ago, he got the drive to do something to better the world and came across E.W.B.

"I was looking for something of a much larger scale for something to get involved with," said Nieman. 

Not only do the engineers pay for their own travel to Nicaragua, but they leave their home, families, and jobs for weeks at a time, all to help the greater good.

"I didn't know what they are asking me to do, but I put my hand up and said I'll do it," said Nieman.

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He and seven other volunteer engineers had signed up to bring clean drinking water to people living across the world.

"I thought the point of my degree is to always help and better either my local community or the world abroad," said volunteer Jennifer Jury. "Our specific organization has chosen the Nicaraguan community to work with them and develop a water distribution and sanitation hygiene project."

Right now people living in the village use a community well, drinking only the water they can carry.

"We saw several people using the lagoona to wash their clothes," said Jury. 

Originally, the volunteers thought the Nicaraguan's needed help digging wells, but when they arrived they found the problem was much serious. 

"Because of the volcanic activity in the region, the water test with very high levels are arsenic, so that water is not available as a drinking water either," Royal said.

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The volunteers plan to help the village of Laguna de Apoya build a sanitation system to keep their water clean, then find a way to more efficiently distribute the water.

"We went and took surveys of the community there and developed a baseline understanding of what their current practices are," said Jury.

After two weeks, the engineers came up with a plan and headed back to Detroit to start building.

"It is going to be a process. The timeline probably takes us out to 2017 before we get that water project finished," said Nieman.

The next step will be to fundraise money to drill a well.  

For the volunteer, it is the gratitude of the local residents that keeps them going back.

"I'm very happy to be able to help them," said Nieman. "For me it is knowing that I am making a difference." 

For more information on how to help E.W.B.'s cause, visit EWB-Deroit.org.