Many great advancements are born in Livermore's laboratories, but the city's greatest gifts to the world might have come from the garage of a plumber, the efforts of a retired firefighter and the tender hearts of some local pool and spa professionals.
About 15 years ago, after volunteering on an Assist International aid trip delivering supplies to an orphanage in Romania, Livermore resident Jim Stunkel was hooked. Assist International provides aid and construction projects in impoverished areas throughout the world.
The longtime Livermore resident was working as a battalion chief with the San Jose Fire Department at the time. Stunkel began using his vacation time to go on more aid trips around the world. A couple years ago he retired as a firefighter in order to work for Assist International.
On an aid trip to Haiti after the devastating quake in 2010, Jim brought his plumber friend, Andy Pierce, a former Livermore resident. On the trip, they met up with a group from Livermore's Cornerstone Fellowship (www.contracostatimes.com/ci_16975226) that was constructing an orphanage. Pierce volunteered to stay in Haiti longer to help out with the orphanage.
They built a rainwater catchment system, but the hand pump they had for pumping water into a tank in the attic was inadequate. There was no electricity and no budget for a generator or solar power. Pierce began researching
Meanwhile, Stunkel kept facing similar problems during African aid trips: No way to move lifesaving water for crops, drinking and washing. Everywhere he went in Africa, villagers were carrying heavy buckets of water from low-lying marshes and lakes. The dry season, which lasts about nine months in many parts of Africa, meant no crops for farmers for much of the year. What little they could grow, they had to water by bucket from low-lying marshes. Stunkel saw women spending hours scouring the dry ground just to find individual rice kernels that might have been left behind after harvest. He knew from years of volunteering in Africa that food scarcity inflamed violence and wars in addition to leaving millions hungry.
A few weeks after their trip to Haiti, Stunkel received a call from Pierce telling him he had solved the water pump problem.
"He told me he had built a pump that you can ride like a stationary exercise bike. I said, bring me one of those and come with me to Uganda. We'll install it in a village." Stunkel saw the implications of what Pierce had built, not just because it could be run by a bicycle or a motorcycle, but because of the source of the pump: a discarded swimming pool pump.
"There's tens of thousands of swimming pools in California alone," said Stunkel.
A swimming pool pump runs on an electric motor, which is usually the part that goes bad. In most cases, if the electric motor goes bad, the mechanical part of the pump is recycled or thrown away as well. The whole pump unit is replaced with a newer, more efficient, quieter model. Pierce just needed the drive shaft and the mechanical portion of the pump.
Stunkel notes that there are other manual pumps, but he says that the bicycle-powered pool pump beats them in head-to-head testing. The standard right now is "MoneyMaker" out of San Francisco, he said. The "Money-maker" is powered by stepping on a stair master-style machine which powers a pump.
"After 10 minutes, you can ride a bike and you can't be on a stair machine. We've tested these side by side. This will produce from four to 10 times the amount of water, because not only does this work wonderful on a bicycle, but it adapts to a motorcycle or scooter," Stunkel said.
Stunkel set up a trial run in a remote village in Uganda, and a farmer paid $10 down in a microloan program in order to purchase the machine for $60, money which can help fund more pumps.
"It has changed his whole livelihood. He made less than a dollar a day. He's quadrupled his income. He can afford to send his kids to school."
Stunkel and Pierce, now working full time for Assist International, are scrambling to keep up with demand. They have orders for hundreds of pumps in several African countries. They gave a presentation on the idea to the an area group of pool and spa professionals, asking them if they could donate the old water pumps they collect instead of throwing them away or recycling them. As a nonprofit, Assist International could give them a tax write-off.
The servicemen have responded to the call. They now drop old water pumps in collection bins placed in area pool supply and service businesses. Stunkel says they hope to have 1,000 pumps by the end of the year. When the pool and spa professionals were updated on what a big impact the pumps were having, they donated $1,000 to help pay for the cost of assembling and shipping the pumps.
The Celebration Riders, a Livermore biker group, has recently volunteered to disassemble and clean the collected pool pumps, which are then sent to a welding shop in Uganda to be mounted to a frame.
"It costs us $325 to do a pump package. You need hose, pipe, fittings, frame and welding. You need to ship it to Africa and truck it to the village. If someone wants to sponsor a pump, they can make a donation to sponsor a pump and we'll get it installed," Stunkel said. For more information, visit www.assistproject41.org.
Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@bayarea- newsgroup.com.