Student Spotlight - Alex Prescott

Back to Spring 2013 Newsletter

by Katosha Nakai, Esq., Central Arizona Project Manager, Tribal Relations & Policy Development

Alex Prescott began his studies in August of 2012 when he entered the Honors College at the University of Arizona. He is pursuing two degrees: a Bachelor of Science focused in Environmental Hydrology and Water Resources, and a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, with a minor in Geoscience. During his previous three years in the Phoenix area, he co-founded an Arizona state non-profit corporation with the purpose of initiating and administering community gardens in the Phoenix-metro area, consulted with community members looking to initiate their own community gardens, and began working with Arizona Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) at the WRRC.

His decision to return to university studies was driven by a desire to better understand the processes that affect natural environments, so as to pursue solutions to pressing ecological and social problems from a position of deeper understanding. Alex currently works with teachers participating in Earth Camp for Educators, a project of Project WET, the College of Science, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and the Planetary Science Institute.

In March of this year, Alex traveled with a group of 15 UA students and 13 University of Bayreuth (Germany) students to Ghana for a volunteer service project. The students were to build three ferrocement household rainwater harvesters, each sized so as to collect enough water in the wet season to meet each family’s needs through the annual five-month dry season. The project was organized through Global Brigades (see AWR Winter 2012), an international non-profit whose stated vision is “to improve equality of life by igniting the largest student-led social responsibility movement on the planet.”

Alex writes of his experience:

Imagine you fill two one-gallon milk jugs almost to the top from a local municipal pond of standing water. Now imagine carrying this water, plus the water your family will use, in a bucket on your head back home. Finally, imagine using this quantity and quality of water for all of your day’s needs: washing clothes and dishes, cooking food, washing your body, brushing your teeth and, yes, drinking. Would you value water any differently? How much would you use in a day?

The best estimate from household surveys is 7 liters (1.8 gallons) per person as the daily usage in the coastal community of Srafa Aboano, Ghana. The scenario described above is the reality of life for the 900 members of this community. Although precipitation averages about 100 cm (40 inches) per year, rainfall is seasonal. Sources of water are few and far between for much of the year, and the quality of those sources is quite low by U.S. standards.

The primary sources of water that most families utilize during the dry season are a series of surface ponds connected to the local, highly saline aquifer. These ponds are stagnant, open to the air, and have tested positive for E. coli. At times in the dry season, community members can wait in line for more than 8 hours for seepage to refill the ponds. People state that they don’t like to use the water from ponds or from the limited number of wells that exist, but currently there is no viable, reliable alternative. Private water delivery trucks come through the community from time to time, but the prices they charge are more than people can afford. A treatment plant has been built in the area and delivers water to large urban areas in the general region, yet Aboano doesn’t have the economic means to build the infrastructure necessary to transport this water, and it is too small and isolated for the government to justify funding the project.

This is just one community experiencing what is a worldwide water security problem. I’ve heard about the problem a lot, but I didn’t really know it until I experienced it. This project gives a whole new appreciation for the comparatively endless supply of high-quality water available here in Tucson, as well as the extent to which a community’s water security can be more a function of human engineering than local climate. For additional information about Global Brigades, go to