Want to help keep an island school from flooding?

April 19th, 2018 § 2 comments § permalink

In this post I am sending out the bat signal to any of my stormwater management friends to help a school stop flooding!

In brief, and I will explain more as we go, we became connected (by fishing and messing around in boats) with some of the kids on Alitupu, in the Robeson community in Guna Yala (Panama). We visited their school and learned from their bilingual(Spanish/Guna) director, Nelicia, that they have severe classroom flooding when it rains, and also some high tide flooding under certain conditions.

The community has many riches, but cold hard cash is not one of them, so buying additional building materials and transporting them out to the island is the main barrier we can remove. Rainwater harvesting is a common practice in this island, and  households will line up tubs under the edges of roofs. Sometimes you see fabric draped over the top of the tubs as a filter/lid.

I see three teams! In the comments please identify yourself as a possible member of a team if you want to get future communiques on the following team tasks:
1. TEAM RETROFIT: Do you have expertise that you can share with designing and implementing a low-cost, durable, and possibly repeatable, retrofit for this school? Can you collaborate w me remotely?
2. TEAM MONEYBAGS: Do you have a network that might contribute to help fund the retrofit (materials, labor and transportation) which would occur as a minga-type group building day? If I made a transparent appeal for funds, would you share it with your network?
3. TEAM FETCH : Finally, are you in Panama, with access to a big truck and/or boat? Can we take it to Portobelo to the tank store there? We will need to transport the stuff into Golfo de San Blas either via boat or via Chepo-Cartí (carro-lancha).

If you answered TEAM RETROFIT, come along right away on a photo tour of the site…

ALITUPU - 1 of 18

Schools in Panama are blue and white… here is the view of the school from where we anchored. Looking from S to N. Homes are thatched or some mix of thatch and metal roof. The school is cinder block w a metal roof on a frame. For future orientation, remember that the separate boxy structure on the left of the school complex is the bathroom.

ALITUPU - 2 of 18

Approaching the school from the path coming from the town dock. Communal building on the left, private home on the right.

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This is the front of the school – four classrooms, each with a door opening to this portico. In this view the waterfront is on the right side of the building. Sheet flow from this roof is severe, and the flooding occurs from the portico into the classrooms.

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Looking S, you can see they have dug a little canal trying to divert the water down to the waterfront.

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Inside the portico, note the canal and sediment on the blue wall.

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Detail of roof frame. At one point there was a gutter but it came apart.  Wood is still very solid to anchor some new, very durable, gutter.

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Toward the waterfront, a complex of homes contribute runoff, and this is the main source of the flooding.  The classroom at this end is impacted first and most severely. The director indicated ankle-deep water was a regular occurrence in the wet season.

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Bathrooms down at the waterfront, also you can see the path of the canal down along side the thatched home. During certain tide and wind conditions, this canal can also bring salt water up into the mix.

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From the waterfront end of the school, looking back.  You can see how tight are the homes and how deep the little canal gets at this end of the portico.

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This household does harvest rainwater from this area – note the tub there. During wet season there would be several lined up, I assume.

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Looking back “up” the canal, I think my recommendation here is a long trench drain with some prepared gravel under. This is very well draining, sandy (its a coral atoll for goodness sake) soil. Other more creative ideas?

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Another look under the portico, its a nice hangout. The woman figured here is Nelicia, the director of the school. You may be thinking where are the people.  There were people around me while I was taking these, but it is courteous to not photograph people here, esp in more traditional areas. So image the little dance going on as I move around the site!

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There it is. The bathroom directly over the water. Deal with it.

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Next to the bathroom is these piles for a future school expansion. So at some point the waterfront end of the school will be built out, but when is anyone’s guess.

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The waterfront end, now looking toward the back of the school, toward the neighboring pig pen! In this open space, there could be a rainwater tank that is elevated or not, collecting water from the roof that is diverted w a gutter.  This is just my early idea. Additional fresh water near the bathrooms for washing or just detention. But the possible future expansion will change this layout if it ever came…

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A look behind the school. Note the debris is littoral, flotsam from the sea and wind. Some amount of this is refuse from the island, and islands often create areas of landfill (the pig nearby is a clue) that languish a bit and then are purposefully filled and lived on. There has been some study about how some inhabited islands have grown their landmass despite the larger plan for Gunas towns to relocate to their mainland in response to sea level rise. So there’s solid waste management, climate adaptation, and terraforming all embodied in this rubbly side lot.

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This is the “interior” side of the school, facing into a grassy square where kids play etc. Note portico on right for orientation.

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This is looking from the interior, down the back of the building toward that rubbly lot and out to the waterfront.  The director says they don’t get flooding into these houses. Note the little store window (closed for holiday) in the thatched wall to the left.  Normally you can go there and buy tienda things.

Next, I will translate this page to share with the director and the students. If you speak any Spanish feel free to use it in the comments too! I have measurements and will draw up a few views. Comment if you want to stay looped in!


lost and found

August 12th, 2016 § 3 comments § permalink

We try, we really do.

Me, I devoted the bulk of my career to the Clean Water Act. My husband, he’s just cheap. But both of us are highly motivated when it comes to keeping our belongings on the boat. Yet whoosh goes the cockpit cushion off into a gale, and splash goes the plastic clothespin right from my hand.

Its one of those things that boat life does to you – you are confronted with all of your impacts. There is no “away”, and all of life becomes a pack in/pack out scenario. I started keeping a list of our lost items.

The response to losing is to go finding. Esoteric? Maybe. Guilt-driven? Yes.

Now we collect marine debris, (how much and what type depends on several factors) and deal with it. First it was plastic caps on the beach, then it was a torn beach ball in the parking lot.

Blue bandana is full of beach plastic.

Blue bandana is full of beach plastic.

Ultimately, I found myself on the bow with the boat hook snaring half-deflated balloons out of the open water.

Worn balloons and the boat hook.

Worn balloons and the boat hook.

Our list of lost items now has a second column for the things we have found. Can we come out ahead?

The last item that was lost from the boat, one of our best outdoor pillows, went over during our approach to Fairhaven, MA, where we are now. We straight up turned the sailboat around. If you sail you know that’s a pain in the butt and you don’t do that if you are going somewhere. That’s right, dear readers, we are officially performing man overboard drills on our own marine debris.

I guess the best we can hope for is to be both lost and found.

This is a sailboat embroidered onto a found beach ball.

This is a sailboat embroidered onto a found beach ball.

PS. If you are wondering why my Instagram has gone silent, its because I dropped my phone in the water.

no yolo

January 24th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

This week, via The Week: “The World Economic Forum predicts plastic production will increase threefold to 1,124 million tons over the next 34 years…if plastic consumption and production continues at current rates, the world’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish in terms of weight by 2050.”
see_saw We have been grappling recently with provisioning and how we can develop a pantry without disposable plastic. At sea, if you have a plastic waste hoard that needs tossing, you are faced with using your own two hands to pitch it right into the sea. Even though much of our land-based waste gets to the sea one way or another, there is something about this liveaboard scenario that evokes real personal responsibility.

For you, dear reader, a few questions: How is it not possible to buy food without buying plastic as well? How is it so that this mandatory plastic cannot be *really* recycled in my town? Not every town is so, but in many US towns this is still true. And, *drumroll* who/what absorbs these externalized impacts?

Take that one to church, y’all!

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