Elena Reymundo Cobo (35) spent several hours every day collecting water from nearby springs when she was growing up in the village of Xepiun in Guatemala. Xepiun’s water situation has slowly improved over the years and today most of the approximately 70 households have a single outdoor faucet on their property. Elena is grateful for the improvements the water system has brought to the lives of her family; however, the system is far from what most North Americans would call acceptable.
For Elena, having a faucet on her property means her family of six can earn more money. A typical household this size would have needed to collect water between 15 and 20 times per day. Elena’s family runs a village store with the extra time afforded by not having to collect water, including a corn grinding service. Her husband also works as a mason. The children all go to school and have the opportunity to travel to other parts of Guatemala to continue their education (Xepiun’s school goes only to the 6th grade).
Readily available water also improves cleanliness. Elena washes dishes after every meal, and the family brushes their teeth and washes every day. Elena washes clothes every second day, instead of once a week.
Despite the improvements to Xeipun’s water system, it is still far from perfect. Sometimes, Elena’s faucet runs dry during the summer months. When she can, Elena fills extra jugs of water to keep as a reserve. The increased access to water from by having a faucet on each property combined with population growth has resulted in increased consumption. Xepiun’s village water committee speculates that some families may be using the water to irrigate crops, which is against the village’s rules.
Xepiun’s water committee is hoping to add a new spring to its system, but this is expensive. Legally a spring is public property, but this law is not enforced and it is accepted practice for a land owner to sell a spring site or charge an access fee for the rights to use a spring that is located on his property. Xepiun has made several negotiation attempts to purchase a particular spring that costs about US$2,500. Significant additional costs also would be required to connect the spring to the existing water system. The average Xepiun household earns less than US$1,000 per year, and government funding is virtually non-existent. Elena worries that another neighboring village may be able to buy the spring before Xeipun is able to buy it.
As a result, most villages in this region are dependent on international organizations to assist in the construction and expansion of their water infrastructures. Agua Para La Salud, an internationally funded Guatemalan not-for-profit organization that has been working with Xepiun for over 15 years (primarily through a maintenance program funded by the US not-for-profit organization International Rural Water Association), recently tested Xepiun’s water system’s flow rate. The tests revealed that Xepiun’s current system should provide enough water for over 300 families. They concluded that crop irrigation is the most likely problem. They suggested that a simple devise that restricts water flow to each faucet so that there is not enough pressure to run a sprinkler. This simple fix should cost the village less than US$50.
Access to water has provided Elena’s children with far more opportunities than she had when she was a girl. However, Xepiun’s struggles for water are far from over, especially as the area continues to grow and develop.
 Xepiun’s village water committee charges each family about US$1.50 per year for water, but this charge covers only basic repairs and maintenance. Xepiun is dependent on international aid organizations like Agua Para La Salud to help pay for significant maintenance and new infrastructure construction.