About 5,000 residents near the southern tip of Dominica learned just how precarious their water supply was when Tropical Storm Erika’s torrential rains caused a creek to breach the cistern that holds their treated drinking water.
With their usual supply contaminated, drinking water had to be shipped to the Caribbean island. But a landslide caused by heavy rains blocked the only road into the area. There was no dock, so large boats couldn’t access the area, and the smaller fishing boats weren’t seaworthy in stormy weather.
The drinking water eventually recovered from the August 2015 storm, but it remains vulnerable. For a group of Clemson students, it’s among the first challenges in a new global engagement program, Engage Dominica. Eight of the program’s 20 students went to the island nation over spring break to begin gathering information on 10 separate projects, including upgrades to the water treatment system.
They returned to Clemson with reams of data and are compiling a presentation they will use to start building support with the Dominican government, the Cardinal Felix Foundation and other groups that might want to collaborate.
Jared Delk, a sophomore civil engineering student, said he liked having the chance to create a project from scratch, helping design it, build it and make final adjustments at the end. “Just knowing all that, it was one of the best trips I’ve taken,” he said. “It was amazing to know that the ideas that are coming from me could help people.”
Jennifer Ogle, an associate professor of civil engineering, leads Engage Dominica. “These students are working hard to build their own organization and their own agenda and relationships in Dominica,” she said. “This program helps position them to have a global impact now and after they graduate.” The projects the Clemson students are pursuing include a cap for the cistern and designs for a pier to support emergency evacuation, fishing and tourism. They also have plans for a basketball court that will direct rainwater around a low-lying primary school while giving the students a place to play.
Engage Dominica already has corporate support, which is seen as a key to success. Morgan Corp., a heavy civil contractor whose corporate office is located in Duncan, recently donated a LiDAR scanner to the program. Students used the scanner to collect images and point clouds of the proposed project sites in Dominica. Using this data, students can measure distances between any two points with a degree of accuracy within a few millimeters as well as create 3D models.