Life at Sea

We, Monique and Ariel, met in line for a flight going from Honolulu, Hawaii to Guam.

Wait, what?


…who goes to Guam?

Well, the United States Navy does. We were flying to Guam to board a Naval hospital ship, the USNS Mercy.

That’s the big ol’ girl.

So tonight’s post is going to be a bit of a photo chronicle of the mission for us enginerds.

We hung out in that ward a lot.

Indonesia: water testing at a clinic and a police station.

Philippines: team huddle! We did the most construction in the Philippines.

Some med student friends from UCSD!

Damage control in the US Navy was giving a fire hose demonstration to local firefighters in the Philippines.

The filters we were installing all over the place (there will be a post about that can o’ worms).

WOMEN engineers and JAG! And, an Australian.

Having a party at sea, another ship pulled up beside us and gave us some gas and strawberrys. Big THANK YOU to the USNS Richard E. Byrd for that one.

Seawall design, construction, and retrofit in tsunami inundation zone of the Philippines.

Lots of laughs while washing hands! Clean water AND hand washing?!

We’re all going to change the world together!!

Set-up demo of the slow sand filters (sigh, Ariel will tell you why later).

water, tubig, agua, thuk, nuoc ❤

Testing 1,2,3!

Oooohhh yeahhh!

Sometimes you just gotta jump!

~ Monza and Sayze

Engineering crush: Green Roofs

I thought I would write my first ‘spotlight on a technology’ post on…. Green Roofs! It’s because they’re so great. And because I intend to live in a house that has one (if I don’t end up living in a tree house).

What a Green Roof is…

They are multiple layers of soil and plant matter that are installed on the roof of a building. Basically, if all houses and buildings had green roofs, we’d be living in the Shire (minus the hairy feet).

The forest is really good at dealing with storm water. Rain falls on a natural area relatively evenly and it percolates down into the soil. Effectively 100% of the ground is permeable so the water can infiltrate down into the groundwater system (recharging aquifers! Yay!). When an area is built-up, however, rainwater gets erratic. It will run off traditional roofs and onto paved, impermeable sidewalks. If there is no drainage system, flooding will occur. That’s bad. Also, even if there is a drainage system it may be old. Old systems tend to just siphon off the water into nearby lakes or streams. These natural water bodies haven’t been adapted for influxes of large volumes of water. Their delicate stream beds and shores may begin to erode due to the water’s force.

So if you put a little forest on your roof (that’s what a Green Roof effectively is) you can restore the natural process of rainwater movement through our environment. You are protecting streams and lakes! You are helping prevent flooding! You are planting trees and greenery which gobble up CO2! Also, they look pretty boss.

Can I get one?

Yes. I’m glad you asked. There are varying thicknesses of Green Roofs that you can install on your roof. Even a thin layer of soil and plant matter (generally called an “extensive green roof”) can help manage storm water. And it won’t be crazy expensive or require a retrofit to support the added load to your roof.

See, you can even graze your goats up on these bad boys.

I want to learn more!

Go here:

And here:

“Ecogeeking” out in D.C.,


Philanthropists shouldn’t just give money to charities

This is a blog post about my favorite article up there ^^^^ (read it. memorize it. show it to everyone you know and discuss it in depth). In many ways, the article is talking directly to me.

“For instance, engineering students would not be allowed to implement a project in the United States, it is not clear why they are allowed, and even encouraged, to implement in developing countries.”

Yes, addressed to me.

I implemented a (water and sanitation) project in a developing country as an engineering student. I was encouraged to do so by family, professors, and friends. Everyone gave me such positive feedback when I told them about it. My father bragged to his co-workers that I was his daughter that was going to “save the world”. There were a multitude of (rather hefty) grants offered at my university for just these projects. There was even a major that was created in my time there that focused wholly on global development.

And yet, I did it wrong.

[Side note: I am not putting blame on anyone in particular, including myself; I believe the push for projects like the one I did is a systematic issue and a product of old thinking. I want to get the new, creative and effective thinking out there.]


A Case Study: Our “Engineering Students in Belize” Project

  • built a large-scale (for 70 users) slow-sand filtration system.
  • installed 35 HydrAid water filters in a small, rural village in Belize.

We wanted to make it a sustainable project. We spoke to local government officials (even got them to come to the isolated village and sample the water. Once…), we spoke to the community “Water Board”, we organized a community-wide health workshop, we used PhotoVoice at the beginning of the project to see how people used water, we put up an anonymous message board at the local store where community members could ask us questions about the project and we could respond, we talked to everyone over and over (and over), we shared watermelons, armadillo, chicken, beans and rice, all manner of food to try and forge relationships. I went back to the community four times in total and lived there for 2 months during one summer. We worked with a group of local university students who we put in charge of continuing the project after we left.

But instead of requiring a financial contribution for the improved water systems we offered, we settled for “sweat-equity”. The recipients of the filters were made to participate in multiple user workshops. They didn’t pay us with money but with their time and attention. We had discussed charging for these filters but I will not go into the long, drawn-out story of why we gave them out, effectively, for free.

So there in lies the evil of the traditional hydro-philanthropists. They finance the project 100%. As Breslin notes in his article, giving out free services can distort the market. Furthermore, it can facilitate corruption. Certain governments have been known to allocate funds to improve the infrastructure of an area. When an NGO comes in and independently finances a project that improves WASH infrastructure in that area, the government officials will write off the community as “benefited” and pocket the funds.

A new(ish) initiative of requiring “sweat-equity” came to the surface in the WASH projects sector. NGOs and “well-meaning individuals” (like moi) thought that in the stead of cold hard cash, the fact that someone was willing to lay pipe or aid in the construction would demonstrate their commitment to the system and therefore ability to maintain it. Breslin argues that this is false. Just because someone helped lay pipes does not mean that they have the financial capacity to replace a pipe that springs a leak six months after the NGO has left. Breslin states that there needs to be a comprehensive set of sustainability metrics that a recipient community must adhere to, such as affordability of local spare parts. Looking at these metrics, the project I did adhered to scarce few.

That makes me pretty sad.

So here I am, working at a non-profit that does WASH projects in Africa. I learned a lot from my mistakes and I want to, no need to, carry that into my job now. I never want to be part of a project that does not strictly adhere to the sustainability metrics that Breslin argues for.

People shouldn’t just throw money at NGOs. The NGOs and implementing individuals should have to defend their proposed project before it is funded. They should have to consider all the sustainability criteria before implementation begins. Effectively, there needs to be a test as strict as the show Shark Tank for all entities proposing a WASH project.

Take-away: What the “hydro-philanthropy” sector needs is its own version of Shark Tank.

Side note 2: I am not, as it may seem, obsessed with Ned Breslin.
Ok… maybe I am a little bit.

Love from (rainy) D.C.!


Desalination, not really the way to go?

I have heard so many times people not caring (especially in Hawaii) if they overuse/waste water because well, there’s a whole damn ocean that some engineers can figure out when/if we ever need it. Yeah, because with the way we consume water in this country and with hundreds of millions of people living within a drought-ridden area, it’s GOING to happen. It IS happening. Ever heard of the water crisis?? The key to changing this incorrect point-of-view is to learn what the process of desalination is actually about to see if it is the appropriate alternative for your area and then change behavior to CONSERVE water! Wow, that is going to be very difficult.

In the past half a century, there has been a huge increase of technology dedicated to decreasing energy consumption. Unfortunately, desalination has an incredibly high demand of energy, emits green house gas, disturbs local marine environments, is an excuse for our poor behavior, etc., so why backtrack? More attention and funding should go towards preserving what clean fresh water resources we have left rather than push for alternative methods to continue our exuberant rate of consumption.

There are two popular processes of desalination, multi-stage flash distillation using heat to evaporate water leaving the salt behind (dirty, dirty, dirty) and reverse osmosis desalination that pumps water through filtration membranes (cha-ching, lots of money).  Then, what do you do with the concentrated salt stream that is produced as a result of multi-stage flash desalination? How do not damage the environment with such a volume of salt? Yes, plant designs take this into consideration and in the U.S. and Europe an EIA/EIS would determine whether the consequence is a concern or not. However, what if desalination is only used for extreme situations, such as along the equatorial belt where there is a high proportion of drought and poverty?

There are facilities such as, inland desalination plants like in El Paso and a lot of rich countries like Saudi Arabia, China, U.S., Israel, UAE, etc. all do it already. But to complicate the problem further, who is going to fund these large projects, especially in developing nations? Then the conversation gets really political and someone is always going to be left out especially if they lack the mineral/resources to attract outside investors. So, solution is easy… hold off on the desalination excuse and start conserving water.

Here in the U.S., City & Country, State, and Federal policies should focus on Reuse facilities and demand golf courses, toilet water, agriculture, etc. use recycled water. That would save up so much of our clean fresh drinking water. There are also easy solutions out there such as storm reclamation and rainwater harvesting; we just need our policy makers to understand the alternatives. The technology is there, the engineering capabilities are there, we just need to do it.

Throwing Water

Shinichi Maruyama is a Japanese artist who only uses the medium of water for his incredibly unique photography. He calls them “water sculptures.” His inspiration comes from his Japanese culture where finding the beauty in the imperfect is beauty in itself.

His photographs have appeared in some of the most prestegious galleries in the world and when asked how he creates his pieces he responds simply, “with my hands and glasses of water.” Art is difficult to explain and given the subjectivity of whether one is preferred or not is dependent upon no other than, well you. I find his work to be overtly simplistic, and giving the fact that this solution is extremely complex the dichotomy leaves me amazed.

“No matter how many times I repeat the same process of throwing [it] in the air, I never achieve the same result. And I am so fascinated by this unexpected interaction of liquids colliding, which happens fairly infrequently, that I am overwhelmed by its beauty.” –Maruyama 2009

Enjoy!! ❤ Monique


Everyone wants to take a crap and not have to deal with it

These were the truthful, if blunt, words from one of the panelists, Ned Breslin, at an event my work co-hosted today called “The Business of Sanitation”.

Yes, I spent the day listening to people talk about the human “end product”. It made me realize that we need (really really need) to start talking about it more. Talking about it so we can do something to improve the current [global] system. There are water and sewer pipes buried beneath DC that have been there since the Civil War. That was between 1861-5 (yes I did just have to google the dates). No wonder they’ve been rupturing all over the place! That’s just in our own country, the problem is insanely dire in other areas. In the world, almost 3 billion people don’t have access to adequate sanitation. I’m sorry, WHAT?!

I could go into immense detail about the problem (which cannot be overstated) but I would be neglecting the really neat part about today’s discussion. Someone out there put on their good-ol’-Capitalist-American hat and thought, let’s make money off this shit. Literally. I listened to Ashley Murray today and she talked about starting a company that will take human waste, process it, and either turn it into fertilizer or into fuel. Smart moves.

There are cool things happening here; don’t write off the shit sector so quickly.

Good night from D.C.!