Alumni ProfileStuart Dykstra '84
Unlocking the water

stuart dykstraIn villages around Bamboo Mountain on Haiti’s northwest peninsula, there is a myth that seven voodoo devils kept the area’s underground water locked away from them—until Stuart Dykstra ’84 and his team scared the devils away.

Two years ago Dykstra knew nothing about Haiti. A hydrogeologist with the Chicago-based engineering company V3, he met with a Haitian Christian businessman who dreamed of a residential and resort community in northwest Haiti that would draw expatriates like himself home and catalyze sustainable development for the impoverished economy. A seemingly insurmountable obstacle? Water.

Nowhere in Haiti does the government deliver a clean water supply. In the arid northwest corner, many people walk up to 10 kilometers roundtrip to collect water from springs, water contaminated soon after it surfaces. So they suffer rampant water-borne diseases and die young.

Early in his search for water in the area, Dykstra talked to others who had searched before him: relief workers, engineers, drillers. “They dismissed the idea of finding a plentiful supply of groundwater as impossible,” Dykstra said.

Hired to do the impossible, Dykstra’s team set about it with a careful cost-benefit analysis. “A lot of people have drilled in the area, but without enough research,” Dykstra said. “That’s like shooting in the dark.”

So Dykstra started with all the information he could find on the geology of northwest Haiti. “That gave us the big picture,” he said, “but it didn’t focus on where the water was.”

For that, Dykstra took to the ground. He and James Adamson, another V3 geologist, spent 10 days in February 2007 hiking a 150-square-kilometer area. “You’re looking for clues in the rocks and how they relate to where the springs are,” he explained. “Then you compile all the clues to form a mental picture of what’s below the surface.”

Back in Chicago, Dykstra’s team did an exacting analysis of the field data. By May he was again in Haiti, “refining and testing what we thought we knew”—and preparing to drill. He was helped by members of the entourage who followed him. “Farmers could show us where the springs were,” he said.

Finally, after three more weeks of tramping the countryside, the V3 team chose the spot. The acre was purchased from a local farmer, a road built, a rig brought in, the well drilled.

“When the gusher burst from the wellhead, the crowd couldn’t believe it,” Dykstra said. “Women danced and clapped, farmers dug irrigation trenches, and everybody brought jugs and jars and buckets to carry water home.”

The well’s 620-gallon-per-minute yield will be more than enough to supply the residential development, once it’s built. It’s also enough, now, to provide clean, safe drinking water to the more than 1,000 people who live within a kilometer of it. They’ve organized a cooperative to oversee the water’s distribution and well maintenance.

Setting free the groundwater on the shoulders of Bamboo Mountain has created a new passion in Dykstra. He’s now on a project to find water on Haiti’s La Gonave island.

“It’s so rewarding to take my professional knowledge and apply it—in a business model—to something that accomplishes Christ’s call to meet the needs of the poor. I look forward to spending the next 20 years in Haiti.”