Safe Water for Baja

Fair Oaks, CA  |  Story by Shaunna Boyd
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Rotary members visited four locations in Baja to demonstrate the assembly and use of the filtration system. Photo provided by Jim Cralle.

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Part of the Rotary team presenting the 5 gallon buckets for the improvised filtration system in Baja California.

Local Rotarians Distribute Water Filters in Rural Mexico

FAIR OAKS, CA (MPG) - Eight members of the Fair Oaks Rotary Club recently returned from a trip to South Baja, Mexico. As part of the Safe Water for Baja project, they helped distribute water filtration systems to local residents. Jim Cralle, the club’s international services director, spearheaded the project, collaborating with a Tahoe Rotary Club and the local Rotary Club in Los Barriles, Mexico.

The town of Los Barriles is located on the southern tip of Baja along the Sea of Cortez. “It’s desert. It’s gorgeous, but it’s desert,” said Cralle. “It’s totally different from what we’re used to.” The group also visited Caduaño, Los Tinos, and Chupaly.

Many of the residents in the Baja area live in remote farming communities surrounded by desert. Cralle explained that the locals live off the land, growing vegetables and raising cattle and other livestock. The farming districts grow mangos and papayas for export as their major sources of income.

Much of the fresh water available in the area isn’t safe for consumption because it is contaminated with salmonella and other bacteria. If they can afford it, residents buy large jugs of bottled water. If they can’t afford it, and many can’t, they just drink the available water — so gastro-intestinal diseases are extremely common.

Cralle said that the number one reason for medical intervention in the area is contact with unsafe water, and local kids miss up to 8 weeks of school each year because of stomach ailments.

The average wage is just $10 per day, and jugs of water are $5 each — so most of the locals have been drinking the contaminated water for generations.

Cralle said that they think it’s normal to have stomach issues all the time “because that’s what they’re used to.” A significant part of the project involved providing information to educate the residents about the dangers of drinking contaminated water.

Due to the remote and rural nature of much of the Baja area, the best way to improve the residents’ access to safe water is to provide small and rugged water filtration systems. The systems cost $26 each and are assembled using a 5-gallon bucket and an attached filter. They remove more than 99% of viruses and bacteria and 100% of microplastics. The systems can filter 170 gallons per day and up to 1 million gallons over time, lasting 5 – 10 years.

At the four sites they visited in Baja, the group demonstrated the assembly and use of the filtration system. They handed out the equipment and helped the locals practice setting up the filters in the buckets until everyone understood and could do it on their own. They distributed 84 total buckets, which will provide safe drinking water for 143 people.

Other Rotary clubs also participated in the project at different locations on other dates. In total, the project successfully distributed almost 400 buckets, impacting more than 1,600 people. The project cost $11,000, collected from various clubs. The Fair Oaks Rotary Club provided $4,000 for the project, as well as donating their time.

The local Rotary Club in Los Barriles plans to follow-up with recipients to review the impact of the project over time.