Finding Water in a Lava-Made Land

Little Beaver’s Lone Star Drills Help Improve Community Life in Central America

Dense jungles and tropical heat, solidified lava flows and buried boulders. It sounds like a challenging environment one should skirt, not live or dig wells in. But to Living Water International volunteer drilling crews armed with Lone Star Drill rigs, it’s a challenge worth conquering.

Central America sits along the eastern rim of the Pacific Ring of Fire, which creates unusual soil compositions formed through powerful earthquakes and explosive volcanoes. They range from soft clays in Guatemala’s coastal region to dense volcanic rock in El Salvador. It creates very fertile overburden for agriculture production, which is the primary income source for the remote communities, but also is a major source of surface water pollution. And for drilling crews, the overburden hides the obstacles below.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Drilling

Lightweight drills can penetrate through the soft overburden and pumice to access aquifers at roughly 40-foot depths. But as crews move inland, they hit dense volcanic material that keeps the drills from reaching target depths, which limits the area where crews can drill to within 8-10 miles of the coast. Living Water needed a bigger, heavier drill, so it turned to Little Beaver. With our engineers taking on the design, the new drill became a more powerful and rugged alternative to the existing equipment.

The new LS400T+ weighs more than 3-1/2 tons, has a 9,000-pound push-down force and can dig to 400-foot depths, nearly 100 feet deeper than the next largest model. It uses 10-foot-long drill pipes to quickly reach target depths, and with its signature pipe rack can hold roughly 180 feet of 3-1/2-inch diameter drill pipes. This makes it easier to transport the pipes to the next drilling location.

Three LS400T+ units will see additional action in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Honduran drill teams work more on the Caribbean side of Central America. They face dense, volcanic gravel material, where stones can become too large for drag bits but not big enough for down-the-hole hammers. With the LS400T+, crews can power through the hard material with roller cone bits.

Drilling crews are training with two LS400T+ models on Guatemalan soil before tackling the igneous rock formations in the surrounding countries. Guatemalan crews stick within 15-1/2 miles of the Pacific coast with existing, trailer-mounted equipment, but with the new drill, Living Water plans to visit communities it previously has been unable to help.

Training North Americans for Central America

Prior to making a trip, Living Water volunteers learn how to operate the drills, mix drilling mud and read soil formations at drill camp. Once they’ve completed camp, they join one of six to eight teams. Living Water sends to different drilling locations throughout Central America and the Caribbean every week. There there are as many as eight drillers on each water well project. The team members split into four-person crews so half of them rest or spend time with community members while the other four work on the well. The system helps the entire crew become more efficient in the drilling process while building a sense of community.

Living Water also has full-time, in-field teams work within each country that educate community members and assist with well site selection. They ensure wells are placed away from potentially hazardous areas, such as latrines, to avoid contamination, and they make sure the locations will be convenient for the communities they’ll serve. Living Water Vice President Lew Hough said site selection is a joint decision because the organization wants community members to take ownership of the well; without that buy-in, wells can quickly fall into disrepair.

Improving Community Life

At the beginning of 2014, Living Water expected to make 290 trips to drilling sites in Central America and Haiti. Through each trip, the organization helps communities live healthier lives. Since its inception, Living Water teams and volunteers have drilled roughly 1,200 water wells with Lone Star rigs in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Many of these communities still rely on agriculture, such as sugar cane cultivation, as a major source of income. In many cases pesticide and fertilizer runs into major sources of drinking water, such as rivers, streams and shallow, hand-dug wells. With deeper wells, the villagers can access cleaner water and avoid ailments, such as kidney failure, dysentery and amebiasis.

Living Water’s in-field teams educate the villagers about how surface water sources can harm them, the benefits of proper hygiene and how to maintain the deeper water wells. Because of that support, when the drilling’s done and the volunteers are gone, the people in those communities know how it feels to be truly healthy in a lava-made land.