How Lifewater Tests Water Quality
For over 40 years, making a lasting change has been foundational to the work at Lifewater. Serving others with excellence, the way we would want to be treated, is also central to the mission.
Water quality testing is one of the most tangible ways we can make sure our commitment to long-term transformation and quality care is being realized in every village.
Water quality testing has been part of the process of building safe water sources since Lifewater was founded more than 40 years ago. But in recent years, we have updated and improved the process to provide better, more actionable data.
In years past, Lifewater would construct or rehabilitate a water source (well, spring cap, rain water harvesting tank) then take a water sample to the country’s national laboratory to ensure the new water source was in keeping with the national standards. This process required that water samples be delivered to the laboratory within 24 hours (to ensure accuracy) which was very challenging coming from remote and rural locations.
The problem: the water was tested only once, at the completion of a new water source. This meant there was no way to determine if water sources were continuing to provide safe water after initial work was completed.
Today, Lifewater adheres to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines for rural water quality testing as well as national standards. To achieve these guidelines, it’s important to test regularly in remote, hard-to-reach places.
Field Water Test Kit (In a Backpack)
In an effort to serve more people with perpetually safe water, we needed a way to test water with frequency, one which was simple enough to utilize in remote villages that don’t have access to electricity (much less laboratories), and sophisticated enough to test for harmful bacteria and pathogens.
Lifewater’s water quality testing kit fits into one backpack. Five of the items include:
- Portable incubator
- Hach Test Strips
- Del Agua Turbidity Tube
- Sample cup (100 mL)
- LoviBond EC Meter
In total, there are 22 items that fit into compartments in our travel water-testing kit, each playing a part in allowing Lifewater WASH Technicians to conduct on-site testing 1-2 times per year following project completion.
The lightweight, portable backpacks serve as a field-friendly form of water monitoring, as our staff are usually riding motorcycles to access rural villages. With a portable incubator, we can accurately test for harmful strains of E coli, bacteria that have been particularly difficult to identify in the past.
“Because the poor often don’t have a choice about the level of service that they receive, we should give them the absolute best.”
The ability to test on-site is what WASH Engineer Jon Viducich calls the “gold standard for water quality testing.” This is because, when water samples are taken to a lab, there are endless possibilities for contamination and human error. Samples can be shaken up and get oxygen in them that alters the pH, break and spill on bumpy roads, or sit too long in a lab, which also has the potential to alter results.
With on-site testing, we can:
- Get the results faster than we could if waiting for results from a national lab
- Operate in a cost-efficient manner that meets WHO’s international standards for rural water quality
- Validate the results from the national lab with our own testing
With a step-by-step simplified water testing system, Lifewater is able to test water more frequently and more readily while still adhering to national and international standards for safe water. The results? More people served with quality water, year after year. All results are monitored in real-time from the field.
The Caddisfly Mobile App Facilitates Water Testing
Akvo Caddisfly is a mobile app that our WASH Technicians use to monitor water quality. By taking photos of the test strips on the specialized app, there is much less margin for human error in determining results.
That information is then stored in our cloud-based system, giving the organization immediate access to updates on the status of our programs globally.
Our engineers analyze that data with the technical team and leadership in each country to determine quality and consistency.
Dr. Pamela Crane-Hoover, Chief of WASH Engineering, said, “We’re able to look at [water quality] over time and say not only was it good then, when we constructed the well, but it’s good now.”
Prior to water quality testing, Lifewater engineers are taking every precautionary measure—like casing and lining wells and building a concrete apron around the pump to divert surface water—to prevent public health problems from developing.
Nevertheless, on-site testing gives villages a confirmation that their children are not at risk for waterborne illness from the local water source, and that Jesus cares about their health.
Water Quality Testing and Gospel News
Lifewater WASH Engineer Sarah Young cited water quality testing as a way of affirming the good news of the gospel.
“People’s health is important, both spiritual and physical. Through water quality testing, we’re showing that God loves them,” she said. “We’re walking alongside families for the improvement of their health and water quality testing is one tool in that process.”
Water quality testing also allows our staff to verify that the community is happy with their water. Does it taste right? Smell right? It gives Lifewater the opportunity to have ongoing conversations with communities.
WASH Engineer Jon Viducich said, “Something I’m really passionate about is the idea that, because the poor often don’t have a choice about the level of service that they receive, we should give them the absolute best. That’s the level of service that people we serve deserve.”