Water Wells

NGWA Talk: Charity is More Than Just Well Drilling

December 1, 2013
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Lots of people talk. Few people act. Oregon State University Professor Michael Campana easily fits into the latter group. National Driller spoke with Campana about his “H20 Talk” at this month’s National Ground Water Association 2013 Groundwater Expo in Nashville, Tenn. His talk, “Hydrophilanthropy: What can you do?,” discusses his efforts bringing water systems to those in need in Central America, and what groundwater professionals can do to make a difference.

Below are excerpts from our interview with the long-time NGWA member and professor of hydrogeology.

Q: Tell me a bit about your background. Who are you and why should water professionals listen to you?

A: I’ve had approximately 40 years experience in the water field. I’ve spent virtually all that time as an academic, but I also consider myself a practitioner, though of course not to the degree your readership is. … I simply try to emphasize the more practical aspects of groundwater and hydrogeology, and even though I do and have done academic research, I kind of enjoy the nuts and bolts of groundwater and hydrogeology. … People should listen to me because I have a very good story to tell and it’s an important story, because there are—as I’m sure you know and I’m sure your readers know—many, many people in the world who don’t have access to safe drinking water, good sanitation and, we’re 13, almost 14 years into the 21st century, I find that inexcusable.

Q: Your H20 Talk is called “Hydrophilanthropy: What can you do?” Define “hydrophilantropy.”

A: It means different things to different people. … I can’t take credit for coining that term, it was a colleague of mine, Dave Kramer at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. I first heard it from him eight or so years ago when he asked me a question: he said, “Tell me about this, uh, hydrophilanthropy stuff you do.” It sounded to me like a useful term. … To me, hydrophilanthropy in its most basic form is using your skills or your time or your money or resources or whatever to help those less fortunate than you in terms of drinking water access and sanitation to help bring them to a point where they have safe water to drink. If you want to write a check, if you want to ship a drill rig down to Central America or South America and drill wells for people who need water, if you want to build latrines—I mean, that’s what it is to me.

Q: Tell my readers about the organization you run, the Ann Campana Judge Foundation. What’s its history, what’s its purpose and how did it start?

A: It was actually officially registered in July 2002. It’s just a way for me to practice my hydrophilanthropy. We work mainly on drinking water projects, although we do sanitation work. Now, we’ve limited our work to Central America; in fact most of our work is in Honduras and Nicarauga. … It’s named in honor of my younger sister, Ann Campana Judge—Judge, of course, her married name. But Ann died very young, she was only 49, and she was murdered on 9/11. She was one of the 3,000 or so victims and she was on the American Airlines flight that was crashed into the Pentagon. She was actually the travel director for National Geographic Society and she was on a business trip escorting three middle school students and their teachers to a conference in Southern California. … It’s kind of my testament to Ann’s life.

Q: In what areas of the world does the foundation work? What water access challenges are those areas typically facing?

A: The ability to get clean water and sanitation to people is really not rocket science. It does take money, and it takes political will. The example that I’ll use is the place I work in Honduras. The people … they’re not people who live in the so-called grinding poverty you often associate with sub-Saharan Africa, or something like that. They don’t have a lot of political power, (and) they live in a relatively rugged area, so people are disinclined to help them because it’s too much effort for so little payoff. … Generally these are people who, by the standards of their own country, don’t really count. They’re not important. So, if they’re not important, or there are not a lot of them, then it’s not worth my while to help these people out—and when I say “my,” I mean the leaders will say that.

Q: NGWA is made up of a variety of water professionals. Is there one group of skills the foundation particularly needs (e.g., drillers, pump installers)?

A: I think it’s very important that we train people in developing regions to be able to handle their own water problems. Now, obviously, some water situations are so complicated that you do need a professional to handle things. For example, the systems that my foundation has been building, we actually build them with the residents of the communities, and then train them in how to maintain it. Again, these are very simple. These are all gravity-flow systems. There are no pumps or anything like that. … Having said that, there are parts of Honduras I’ve been in where folks obviously need wells drilled. … We actually need people who can install or train them to install and maintain hand pumps, which is probably a skill that perhaps—I don’t know how many drillers and pump installers at NGWA have that kind of ability. But certainly they have the skills, they could probably learn that in about 15 minutes. … I would really like to see more educational programs initiated in terms of training locals how to become drillers, or pump installers or whatever. Again, not just so they can maintain their local communities, but so they can go into business for themselves. That’s kind of been a side effect of some of the projects that I’ve done over the years.

Q: Beyond cash donations, which I’m sure are welcome, are there other ways water professionals can contribute? For example, donating equipment or organizing fundraisers.

A: There are a number of organizations that do this kind of work and, as you said, they’re looking for donations. But some of them are also looking for volunteers, people to work on projects, people to check out projects and provide technical expertise. You might be advising an NGO that is undertaking a groundwater project but, gee, they don’t know anything about drilling wells or they don’t know anything about pumps. … Not everyone has to go running off to the four corners of the world. But you can sit in your workshop or your office and probably provide some information.

 In fact, I’m on the board of directors of a new group with the kind of ungainly name of Hydrogeologists Without Borders. … HWB, what we want to do—and we’ve just gotten off the ground—is provide technical expertise because, those of us on the board and in the group have realized through our international work efforts that groundwater is often overlooked. It’s misunderstood. When someone does figure out that there is such a thing called groundwater and you can use it for drinking and irrigating, etc., they really don’t know what they’re doing. So, what we want to do is provide that expertise. We don’t want to start and conduct our own projects. We want to provide expertise and, if people need some groundwater advice, or if they want to institute a training program, whatever—we’re into building local capacity as opposed to building local projects. 

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