One of the most important projects for the welfare of the Tarahumara is providing water both for drinking and for cooking and washing dishes. In response to the serious problem of providing drinking water for the Tarahumara, Father Verplancken began a well-drilling project in 1994. Finding a location to drill is the first step and Father Verplancken did this with divining rods. Often it took him hours to find the spot but in 25 attempts 20 were successful. These were shallow (15-45 feet) wells and were installed with hand pumps since there is no access to electricity. Each completed well had an approximate cost of $1,500. Now, the number of wells has grown and they have become increasingly more expensive. The average depth has grown to 150-200 feet, and the cost is now over $4,500.
At the present time, we have one experience drilling team. Some of the well drilling locations are so far away that the drillers (generally 2) must remain in the area for several days of drilling through hard rock. To accommodate them, a trailer was built for sleeping and the Indian community provides them with food. Our projects have provided potable water to around 1100 families (approximately 6,700 people) located in 86 communities. Since this project began we have installed 14 systems from springs with a pipeline to homes as well as wells and water tanks. We have drilled a total of 98 wells. 77 are working and are equipped with a manual pump. We have installed 34 systems to capture rainwater by installing pipes, water tanks and charcoal filters. We do the latter in places where wells need to be over 60 meters deep. In 2009 we have cleaned and rebuilt 40 wells and pumps more than 15 years old which had become inoperable.
Latest Water Project Activity
Last year, thanks to a FECHAC donation and some private benefactors we were able to clean and refurbish 40 old wells drilled before 2000. They had become almost useless because they were plugged or their pumps were stuck, broken, or they had very rusty pipes. We also drilled two new wells (out of four tries) one in Samachiki and three in Machoguéachi. We had many a misfortune with the Machoguéachi’s drillings. It happened to be very hard rock (and some clay too) so the driller’s big jack broke, the hammer/driller got stuck once (because of clay) and at the third try it got almost “beheaded”. When we had the first well finished and giving a fair amount of water, the bottom sealing cement we use to prevent leaking dissolved and contaminated the well; we had to take out the pump and pipes, clean it thoroughly and rebuilt it again. But at last we got 2 water producing wells there. At the second one we couldn’t get down enough to reach the water table; that is why Antonio (our man in charge) is designing, with a Mennonite workshop in Cuauhtémoc, a complete refurbishing of our driller to be able to reach at least 100 mts (330 ft.).