The Cambrian

Cambria man takes BioSand Filters to Baja to aid indigenous tribe

Dennis White
Dennis White

I t was during a Rotary-sponsored humanitarian pilgrimage to Nambia, Africa, three years ago that Dennis White became aware of the “amazing” health benefits that BioSand Filters deliver when fighting water-borne illnesses.

White returned to Cambria inspired and determined to introduce BioSand Filters to villages that lack safe drinking water. Networking through a Rotary group in Ensenada, he located an indigenous tribe — the Kumeyaay — in a remote reservation an hour and-a-half northeast of Ensenada called San Jose De La Zorra ( “Valley Of The Foxes”).

Safe drinking water was sorely needed. “The Mexican government drilled three or four wells for these people,” White explained. But only one of the wells produced clean water and the other three “were shaky,” White added.

Along with Tim Carr from Cambria’s Friday Rotary, and Cambria Sunrise Rotary’s David May, White spent five days last month training seven members of the tribe to construct and supervise maintenance of eight BioSand Filters.

The Kumeyaay were paid $7 a day — the same rate they are paid to do manual labor improving pothole-plagued dirt roads — to participate in the hands-on training. White and his colleagues hired an interpreter, but the trainers (Rod Thompson and Kwan Lee) donated their time to the project.

Four Rotary groups (both Cambria clubs, the Ensenada Calafia Rotary, and Bakersfield West Rotary) covered the cost of the materials, travel, lodging and food.

White explained that when two gallons are poured into the filter “it takes anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes” to run all the way through. Once the two gallons are purified, there must be an hour’s wait before pouring additional unclean water into the filter.

“There’s a living layer of bacteria — aerobic bacteria — on the top of the sand that feeds on the anaerobic, unhealthy bacteria (pathogens) that are in the unclear water,” White pointed out. The hour wait gives the good bacteria “time to eat the bad bacteria,” he added with a smile.

At night the filter needs “about a six-hour rest,” and the filter should never go more than a couple days without being used. White, who operates a tree-trimming business in Cambria, said the sand required must be “crushed sand” rather than the “tumbled sand” that is typically found on beaches.

The “sharp edges” in the crushed sand “are the key to catching the harmful bacteria” in the water, according to White. So an important part of the training for the seven members of the Kumeyaay tribe was to learn where to locate the kind of sand that must be used — and how to test its appropriateness for this pivotal process.

White hopes to visit the Kumeyaay several times a year, and plans to expand the availability of the BioSand Filter to other indigenous peoples. He has his work cut out; the World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water supplies.

Those interested in more information or who would like to help White’s efforts can call 927-4414.