discovery title

Research at U of S

David Manz and wife Nora
David Manz and wife Nora

The Water in the Well : Improving the World's Water Supply

By Beverly Fast

It's just 8:00 a.m. and already the thermometer is pushing 25 degrees Celsius. It feels more like 41 degrees with the humidity. Not unusual for Bangladesh during monsoon season, and that's where David Manz (BE'72, MSc'74) happens to be.

He pours himself a glass of water.It's cool and clean and he chugs it back. In that simple act lies Manz's remarkable story.

Manz with Indonesian students and a BioSand Water Filter in 1996. Technology transfer means knowledge stays in the local community.
Manz with Indonesian students and a BioSand Water Filter in 1996. Technology transfer means knowledge stays in the local community.

Raised on a farm in southern Saskatchewan, Manz followed up his U of S career with a Doctorate of Philosophy in Water Resources Engineering at the University of Alberta and a fifteen-year tenure as professor of environmental engineering at the University of Calgary.

In the late 1980s, he was invited to join an international team in KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa. An expert on water treatment, he was there to help improve the water supply. What he discovered proved a turning point. Poverty and lack of infrastructure undermined the success of more conventional solutions like wells and pipelines. Manz returned home determined to find a new approach.

"I wanted to get water treatment technology down to the household level. To do that, I knew it had to below maintenance, easy to operate, and something you could build onsite from locally available materials," Manz says.

He started with slow-sand water filtration, a process that has been around for close to 200 years. Manz's invention, the Canadian Water Filtration Process, uses a top layer of micro-organisms to remove 99% of pathogens from the water. As the water slowly filters down, the sand traps iron,viruses, and other particles. Water dispensed through the tap at the bottom is safe to drink.

A Nicaraguan mother using one of Manz�s early concrete filters.
A Nicaraguan mother using one of Manz�s early concrete filters.

"I tried out the idea as an undergraduate project," he says.

"When our first prototype was successful, we kept working on the design. We made up bad water and ran it through, trying to imitate household demand. It worked extremely well, and that's when I started to get excited. I knew this was significant.

"Manz saw an opportunity to make a real difference in the world. Here was an economical water treatment system capable of effectively removing pathogens. It was made of concrete, so it could be built using local materials. It could also be adapted for individual household or community-wide use, and was very easy to operate and maintain.

A Bangladeshi woman with a household BioSand Water Filter. In some areas, one filter supports up to 10 families.
A Bangladeshi woman with a household BioSand Water Filter. In some areas, one filter supports up to 10 families.

Manz's earlier work in international development led to an opportunity to test his new BioSand Water Filter in Nicaragua in 1994. He helped put it in four households. When he returned several months later, he says, "the filters were a tremendous success. People were doing everything good you can think of; access to clean water really empowered them."

The next year Manz got a grant to put in 60 concrete BioSand Water Filters near Granada. "At the time, cholera was sweeping through Central America.The amazing thing was that the community using our water filters was the first cholera-free community in Nicaragua. That was a big deal.

"Success led to recognition at home. In1996, Manz was the first individual ever awarded The Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists, and Geophysicists of Alberta's (APEGGA)prestigious Project Achievement Award.

In 2003, the University of Calgary honored him with its President's Award for Community Member.

A new and improved BioSand Water Filter at Morley FirstNations, Alberta (2006).
A new and improved BioSand Water Filter at Morley First Nations, Alberta (2006).

Manz patented his BioSand Water Filter, and he and wife Nora established Davnor Water Treatment Technologies. The idea was to use revenue from commercial sales to small communities, cottage owners, rural households, and agricultural operations in Canada and the U.S. to fund technology transfer to humanitarian projects in developing countries.

Despite its proven effectiveness, Manz has struggled to get his BioSand Water Filters into the communities that could benefit most from the technology.

"It's not as simple as it sounds," he says. "For instance, Nicaragua proved the system works. But when the Nicaraguan government wanted to move forward with an even larger project, I couldn't get funding. Nobody here believed the technology would work. It's a universally wonderful thing, but try convincing the world of that."

Even after 10 years of hard knocks, Manz remains optimistic. He estimates there are 200,000 BioSand Water Filters at work around the world and he's determined to see more."It's atangible way of doing something good for a community. Go into communities that have it and they'll tell you how much they love the filters, how they've improved their health, how they've shared it.

"I think it's important technology,"he says, pouring himself another glass of clean filtered water, "so I'm still giving her hell."

Beverley Fast is a freelance writer living in Saskatoon.