[IQP] Sustainable Water Systems for Batipa Field Research Isnstitute

Sponsor: Oteima University
Student Team: Panagiotis Argyrakis

Nathaniel David DeSisto

Domenica Ferrero

Marcelino Puente-Perez

Abstract: Comprehending the potential and abundance in the Chiriquí providence, Batipa Field Institute (BFI), believes it would be beneficial to install a rainwater harvesting (RWH) system. This project focuses on proposing a RWH system for BFI, while creating an educational, cost-effective model applicable for the Panamanian public. This was accomplished through exploring Panama’s relationship with the environment and sustainability, communication with other biological research stations, and finally formulating our findings into a model using AutoCAD 2019.
Links: Final Report

Executive Summary

Even though our world is covered with 70 percent water, millions of people cannot access a clean, secure supply of water. Of that 70 percent, only three percent of the world’s water is freshwater. The importance of water is a key factor in our project and is displayed through our design of water conscious systems for Batipa.

We worked with Oteima University and the Batipa Field Research Institute (BFI) to implement a sustainable, holistic water system. BFI is challenged by the lack of a secure, reliable, and scalable water supply and faces droughts during the months of the dry season (January – April). BFI recognizes that global climate change is, and will, continue to threaten its water supply and wants to take action to mediate future issues. We prioritized solutions for the “Los Cabimos” area, the land inside Batipa Foundation that includes BFI, housing for ecotourism, and has future plans for the construction of dormitories and facilities for research. We considered various options of securing the water supply, including the use of rainwater harvesting (RWH), a water well, and existing spring water sources. Having a secure water supply in place would allow students, researchers, and developers in the area to have a reliable and consistent means of accessing water. Additionally, we curated a RWH system that is targeted at rural, low-income Panamanians which is simple, safe, and easy to teach.

Panama is one of many Central American countries that is dealing with water shortage issues. The well-known Panama Canal requires a large amount of water to function. According to the New York Times, the locks lose 50 million gallons of freshwater to the ocean for every ship that passes. The locks source water from two artificial lakes, Gatun and Alajuela, which also the source of drinking water of central Panama. The two lakes struggle to supply the growing number of Panamanian citizens.

The Panamanian government is working on issues of sustainable water control, water infrastructure, and teaching the public to conserve water. Panama has great potential to be a leading country in water management. Unfortunately, the regions outside of Panama City lack governmental aid and resources, when compared to the capital. It is important for Panama to fully incorporate the goals and vision for the entire country, not just the capital, in order to create a productive and inspiring environment for its citizens.

We had the privilege to work with Oteima University, located in the city of David in the Chiriquí Province, about 326 km from Panama City. To help reduce the severe inequality of wealth, the university aims to improve economic opportunities in rural Panama, where the profits from the capital city’s international services industry do not reach. Oteima was founded by concerned Panamanians who studied in more developed areas like the United States and Europe, who wished to use their training to help develop their own country.

BFI is in a dense, flourishing ecological area; home to forests and a river delta, in which Oteima plans to monitor rainfall, sea, and air temperature parameters. By visiting and learning about successful biological research stations, such as the Smithsonian Tropical Research Station (STRI), located in the Bocas del Toro province, we have gained insight into what has been advantageous or disadvantageous in other settings. The goals of this project are to understand the natural environment within Chiriqui province, create a water harvesting design specifically for Batipa Field Research Institute, and finally, to provide sustainable, low-cost designs for Panamanian people to use in their homes.


Rainwater harvesting (RWH) is a method of taking advantage of the abundance of rainfall in Panama. The harvested rainwater can be used for all domestic and gardening applications, including irrigation, lavatories, and direct consumption. There are five major components when it comes to RWH: Collection, Conveyance, Storage, Purification, Distribution.

Designing an effective off-the-grid water system requires having multiple water sources. Rainwater harvesting constitutes a renewable and highly sustainable source of water, but also has limited scale and natural unpredictability. As a result, an additional water source is necessary for most applications to ensure that the supply of water is secure and predictable. Water wells draw water from underground aquifers, and provide a stable, year-round water source. Due to their predictability, they are a great complement to rainwater systems.


Our CAD model for Batipa Field Institute’s research station is based on a design called Aula Didáctica or more informally, Cabimos, is shown in the figure above. This was designed using AutoCAD and uses color layers to differentiate between electricity, water, and black water.

Our research indicates that BFI can support 10 people living there and 100 weekend visitors by using a combination of solar energy, rainwater harvesting and well water. Rainwater harvesting from the roof of the BFI building is enough to provide approximately 2,400 liters of water per day during the rainy season, with the remaining water being sourced from the water well. Storage should be enough to hold at least 150,000 L of water for use during a 3-day period to cover the needs of 100 visitors.

We propose that the well is the primary source of water, with the RWH system being utilized only when the tanks are full or when the well cannot accommodate present needs. In other words, the rainwater system would serve as a backup source to the well. Moreover, a scalable storage system of interconnected plastic cisterns will allow BFI to scale its water storage as needed. BFI can opt to initially deploy only a fraction of the total needed capacity and expand in the future.

Our rainwater harvesting design for BFI uses a combination of a tiled mesh and a first flush diverter for primary filtration. The tiled mesh will trap any large debris while the diverter will capture chemical contaminants washed off the roof by the first few liters of rain. We recommend 5000 Gallon Rhine water tanks for storage, due to their scalability and reliability. Distribution will be achieved by an on-demand DC pump powered by solar energy. A large-scale particulate and UV filtration system will treat the water for direct consumption.


One of our primary goals is to educate the public on how sustainability can benefit individuals as well as the entire country. Farmers are prime examples of people who need sufficient water access to be successful. Professions that use the land and its environment to succeed need to be mindful of the changing climate. Through our research and observation, we can help rural Panama to effectively use its resources like sunlight and rain to help sustain farming and other practices. Our simple do-it-yourself designs for rural Panamanian farms and households will demonstrate how to build and maintain a water harvesting system.

The educational rainwater harvesting model uses the simplest, most familiar and most widely available materials possible for every component of the system. Assuming a roof is already in place, we recommend CPVC piping for catchment and conveyance. For primary filtration, we recommend a fine tiled mesh capable of trapping leaves and biomass. For storage, we recommend dark-colored, sunlight-blocking rain barrels and for purification we recommend colloidal solver filters.

Even though this design is basic, it is the education portion that is the most important aspect of this design. We recommend this model to be distributed through the use of an easy-toread/understand social media post. This post can show simple instructions and tips for safe water harvesting with this model. Local organizations, celebrities, and businesses can post these resources on social media and reach thousands of people.


We believe that the following ideas could be excellent opportunities for BFI to investigate and implement in the future.

  1. Wastewater Treatment System

We believe that an aeration system at Batipa can be successful, not only because STRI has been successful, but also because it can be partnered with another method. The idea of a constructed wetland was highly encouraged by Dr. Bruno and is very environmentally rewarding. Wetlands are earth’s natural sponge, filtering water while also providing an ecosystem that promotes biodiversity.

  1. Solar Farm for Cabimos

We recommend that Batipa considers the creation of a solar farm. This solar farm would be located on the least desirable plot of grazing land and would only use 1-1.5 hectares of land. A solar farm of this size would be able to generate up to 1MW of electricity, enough to power up to 300 Panamanian homes. BFI would be able to provide plenty of electricity for the reserve and Cabimos area as well as be able to resell electricity to the grid.

III. Increase capacity of Cerro Batipa

Batipa currently uses a series of artificial dams and ponds in order to capture the water runoff from the mountain. These dams are sufficient for Batipa during the rainy seasons but do not contain the capacity to support the reserve during the dry season. We recommend that Batipa expands on these efforts by either increasing capacity or quantity of these reservoirs.

  1. Closely measure local climate change and weather patterns

In order to prevent further negative effects, we believe that Batipa should install a small weather station at the end of the existing dock as well as efforts to more closely follow weather patterns. This project would be very cost-efficient as well as extremely environmentally conscious. A simple DIY project with the inclusion of a Raspberry Pi computer can have great implications for BFI and spark the beginning of a long history of data collection at the research station.