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ODU Engineering Alum in Demand for His Work with Water Systems in Haiti

As Haiti rebuilds from last January's devastating earthquake, Old Dominion University engineering alumnus Dave Plum has become a go-to water system expert for the Caribbean nation.

Plum, a 1979 civil engineering graduate of the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, volunteered his time and talent to oversee the construction of a system to transport water from a natural spring two miles away, around a mountain, to the remote village of Batis in northwest Haiti.

The water system Plum's team constructed survived the earthquake. Now, plans have been drafted to expand the system in the community, providing more public water-dispensing kiosks around the village, and possibly running the gravity-fed system into homes and businesses.

"Our water committee (including Batis residents and parishioners of Church of the Holy Family in Virginia Beach) is investigating what other towns are charging customers who have these private service lines," Plum said. "This extension of service will be in phase 2 of the project."

In the meantime, Plum, who is director of municipal engineering at RK&K Engineers in Virginia Beach, volunteered to help the American Society of Civil Engineers with an assessment of damage to water and wastewater zones in the earthquake zone.

"We spent a week in February traveling around Port-au-Prince (the Haitian capital) and surrounding towns to see what failed and what survived the Jan. 12 earthquake. Surprisingly, the water infrastructure suffered little known damage due to the earthquake," he said.

Last month, Plum returned to Haiti to assist with the development of a water supply well and community water system for a new 300-bed hospital in the central plateau town of Mirebalais, north of Port-au-Prince, where word had gotten out about the work of his team.

After providing what expertise he could, Plum headed by helicopter back to Batis, his first visit in several months, to look at the solar pasteurizer his group had installed to further purify the water supply being transported from the mountain spring.

"Unfortunately, the care and maintenance of that unit was disregarded and the unit was inoperable. I replaced one of the solar vacuum tubes and repaired a couple of supply line leaks to attempt to get it back in operation," Plum said.

"We were unable to stay in Batis long enough for the unit to heat up and start producing pasteurized water. So unfortunately, it's going to remain inoperable until I can make an extended return trip to Batis."

The news was better about the water pipeline system itself. In fact, Plum said, clean, uncontaminated water is flowing so well from the town of Batis that other area villagers, who get their water the old-fashioned way - in buckets at the source - grew angry at the amount of water being diverted to Batis. They broke in and closed the mainline valve, stopping all flow of water to the village.

Plum said it was a matter of telling the villagers in Batis not to keep the mainline valve open during the day, as it causes too much water to flow.

"I was able to convey the correct operation of the system to the village water committee members, and since early May there has been no further vandalism," he said.

This article was posted on: June 9, 2010

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