Green filter systems for the world
Felipe Valderrama is a very busy man. The Colombian works for the non-governmental organisation Fundación Humedales, which, among other things, is committed to providing clean water in remote areas of Colombia. And he is the one who makes it possible.
Valderrama, as project manager, supports the construction of so-called green filter systems. These systems independently clean waste water in small communities using certain water plants. In this way, the dirty water no longer enters the groundwater, rivers or lakes untreated. The systems with their long channels do not look like typical clarification plants. They look more like large planting beds. The water flows under and through the floating water plants. In the process, harmful substances and pathogens are reduced by the root balls and bacteria. Thanks to this principle, green filter systems are economical and virtually maintenance-free. Chemical additives are also unnecessary. This makes them a feasible and practical solution for water treatment in emerging markets.
How does a green filter system work?
- Waste water from small villages flows into the plant
- In the pretreatment stage coarse particles are initially filtered out and the flow rate is reduced.
- Oil and grease are separated in the first stage.
- The water then flows into a water container filled with water hyacinths.
- In the shallow and narrow channels, the water flows around the roots of the plants and is cleaned by the bacteria and plants.
- The water quality can be checked in a reservoir.
- The clean water flows back into rivers and lagoons.
To ensure the sustainable realisation of this green technology, project coordinator Valderrama and his team from the Fundación Humedales work closely together with the communities locally. They are responsible for the construction of the channels and have undertaken to operate the systems for a period of at least eight years.
It all started with a pilot project in Colombia. The first green filter system was commissioned at the end of 2013 in San Miguel de Sema, a community in the Andes with a population of 4,000. The village is located near Lake Fúquene, a freshwater lake, which supplies 200,000 people with drinking water. "The ecological balance of the lake was at risk due to its shallow depth and the waste water from the surrounding communities and livestock farming," explains Valderrama. "Our aim therefore was to improve the sanitary and hygiene situation in the villages around the lake and reduce the pollution of Lake Fúquene at the same time." After successful completion of the pilot project, two further systems followed nearby.
Construction of a green filter plant
Interview with Felipe Valderrama
What motivated you to work together with the green filter initiative?
I grew up in a developing country and soon became aware of the problems caused by a lack of money and technology. Many of the people I have met are resigned to this situation, as they often do not know which simple and cost-effective methods exist to resolve numerous problems.
My motivation therefore is to act as a facilitator of simple solutions which also work in regions where little money is available and a low level of education is widespread. The green filter systems are a perfect example. They are able to achieve good and lasting results - without great effort.
What are the main advantages of green filter systems?
The main strengths of the systems are their simple realisation and easy operation. This makes them an ideal solution for the treatment of waste water in small villages, where there is a lack of money and technology.
Green filter systems are a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to normal purification plants. They are designed according to the principle of bionics. This means that the system intensifies spontaneous biological processes as they occur in natural wetlands. In the process, the organic mass is decomposed, which increases the water quality. Since this is a natural process, there is little for people to do.
Who do you work together with during construction locally?
We work together with the inhabitants of the communities. This is very important to us because as soon as the system is ready to use, there are enough people who are already familiar with it and are able to maintain or supervise maintenance of the system.
What role does Kärcher play?
With the “Clean Water for the World" initiative in cooperation with the Global Nature Fund, Kärcher has made it possible for numerous small organisations to realise local water pollution control projects. Our organisation Fundación Humedales is supported in Colombia. The project in San Miguel de Sema gave us the opportunity to test and further develop our idea for the first time on a real scale. Four small villages in Colombia are now benefitting from the technology and are all very grateful for the support of the Global Nature Fund and Kärcher.
Further systems planned
The Global Nature Fund has now completed seven such green filter systems with the financial support of Kärcher, but not just in Colombia. Water filters have also been provided in Mexico, the Philippines and South Africa and 363,000 people are already benefitting from the simple but effective solution.
Felipe Valderrama will also remain a busy man in the coming years, because the next systems are already being planned in Paraguay, Nicaragua as well as Mexico and Colombia. Those taking part again include Kärcher, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, as well as five local non-governmental organisations in the individual countries.
Global Nature Fund
The Global Nature Fund ist an international environmental and nature foundation. A central project of the foundation is the international "Living Lakes" network established in 1998, which supports the global protection of lakes and wetlands. In 2013, the foundation and Kärcher jointly established the "Clean Water for World" initiative to support the "Living Lakes" environmental protection project.
Kärcher supports numerous initiatives across the world. The aim is to make the world more liveable for as many people as possible. For cleaning equipment manufacturers, that primarily means contributing to a clean environment: through the economical use of resources such as raw materials, energy and water as well as challenging cleaning projects as a contribution to the cultural heritage of humanity. Our idea of creating a liveable society also includes helping people who are in need due to natural disasters or personal tragedies. More on the commitment of Kärcher can be found in the sustainability report.