A local nonprofit’s mission to bring clean drinking water systems to developing nations around the globe
By Joel Hersch
In many poor, developing nations around the world, where sanitation infrastructure and waste-management systems tend to be limited or nonexistent, contaminated drinking water is the leading cause of death among children.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 80 percent of all diseases worldwide are related to either water or sanitation, and 30,000 adults and kids die every day due to water-borne diseases.
With that knowledge, Santa Cruz native Danny Wright—formerly a volunteer for the local Surfrider Foundation’s water-testing program—founded the nonprofit Gravity Water, a surprisingly simple, low-tech solution to improve access to safe drinking water on an international scale.
The Gravity Water system combines a rainwater-catchment design with elevated storage tanks and a gravity-fed filtration system.
The idea was born following the 2015 earthquakes that devastated Nepal’s infrastructure, the first and largest of which had a magnitude of 7.8 and rippled outward from the capital city of Katmandu. As Nepal began to rebuild, the nation’s lack of clean water sources in rural communities were underscored, spurring Wright and a small team of water activists into action.
“Storing water at an elevated level allows us to use the most abundant, free energy source in the world—gravity,” Wright explains.
The elevated storage tanks—which store up to 10,000 liters, are designed to last 10 to 50 years, and require no electricity or pump systems—create an important alternative to Nepal’s most common water source: ground water. By mounting the tanks above the ground and harvesting rainwater, instead of sourcing from wells or rivers, Gravity Water avoids contact with any contamination associated with human waste, the leading cause of disease carried by water.
“The water flows through our sub-micron filters, which removes any contaminants that could have been picked up before entering the system,” Wright explains. “The rainwater in Nepal is 99.9 percent safer than groundwater, and since the systems are energy free and don’t use pumps, they’re easy to manage long-term for the local communities.”
In 2016, Gravity Water deployed to Nepal, where the team built five systems at public schools in Katmandu. Based on the city’s average rainfall, the Gravity Water tanks will provide 3,000 students with clean drinking water annually.
This November, Gravity Water will ship out once again to Nepal, where their goal is to set up 11 new water-tank systems. The nonprofit will also scout out regions in Vietnam this fall where Gravity Water could help save lives, which Wright says is the reason he initially embarked on this journey.
“Contaminated water is causing people to die all over the world, and we can’t wait 30 years for these nations to build proper infrastructure to make their water safe,” Wright says. “That’s why we need to create solutions that can be managed by these communities on the ground level, and that’s exactly what Gravity Water offers.”
Learn more at gravitywater.org.