Tech engineers tackle erosion problem

In El Salvador
2012-03-31T00:00:00Z Tech engineers tackle erosion problemBy John Grant Emeigh of The Montana Standard Montana Standard

The locals call it “guacamayero,” which loosely

translates to “big bowl.”

It’s a patch of ground that has been so eroded by runoff from El Salvador’s rainy season that it sort of resembles a large bowl. To the residents of this small farming village, the big bowl causes big problems.

Simply put, the erosion at the guacamayero often causes the

culvert beneath an important road to collapse, threatening the road’s daily use by buses and large vehicles. If it isn’t fixed, the road — which provides people access to schools, a

hospital and a market — will no longer be


This is where Montana Tech jumps into action.

The campus’ student chapter of Engineers Without Borders wants to help the village redesign the culvert, straighten the road and stop the erosion problem, according to Tech engineering professor Butch Gerbrandt.

“It’s a very sophisticated engineering project,” Gerbrandt said. “It’s not a simple


A GROUP from Montana Tech returned from El Salvador

earlier this month from a trip to gather data and local support for the project. Laura Jenkins, 20, who is studying environmental engineering at Tech, said it was an interesting


“There are many cultural differences,” she said.

However, she also noticed

El Salvador is “Americanized” as well, with Wal-Mart stores and fast food chains in the

larger cities.

Jenkins, who is from Boise, will help design the new culvert to better handle the high

volume of rain water it receives.

A second student, Brent Zundel, 21, of Montana State University-Bozeman, also agreed to sign on with the

project. The civil engineering

See EROSION, Page 10A

major also is a Spanish major.

“He was interested in our project, because he could utilize his Spanish,” Gerbrandt said.

The Engineers Without Borders also have three professional engineers assisting.

Gerbrandt said the road serves about 3,000 people in the farming community. It’s a major access to the nearest cities where the locals sell their sugarcane, educate their children and get to hospital.

“The people are farmers. They’re humble, they’re poor,” Gerbrandt said. “They were very friendly to us and motivated, because they need the road.”

THE LOCAL government has agreed to provide half the money for the project if the Engineers Without Borders can raise the other half. Gerbrandt estimates that the entire cost of the project will be $60,000.

They hope to finish the designs by January. Construction would then begin in December 2013, which is after the monsoon season. Construction may take about five months.

Reporter John Grant Emeigh may be reached via email at

Copyright 2015 Montana Standard. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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