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By the time they are back on U.S. soil on July 2, members of a North Coast engineering team trekking into the Peruvian rain forest this weekend will have delivered safe, clean water to remote village residents for whom even a thirst-quenching drink has always carried risk.

Using designs and expertise they already have used to bring life-saving change to three other Amazon Basin communities, the five representatives for the Sonoma County chapter of Engineers Without Borders are headed to a region two of them know and the others will experience for the first time.

But their commitment is the same: to share the luxury of clean water enjoyed by those in the developed world, and to improve the ease and efficiency with which the rain catchment and treatment system they’ve developed can be replicated elsewhere in the area, where rainfall is abundant but unpolluted water scarce.

“It’s something everybody needs,” said Sebastopol resident Ben Campanile, 38, who will make his fourth trip to Peru when he and the rest of the group leave Saturday.

While there, “you get a sense of how desperate they are for clean water, how important it is in their daily lives, and how much we really take clean drinking water for granted here in the states,” Campanile said.

Their trip to the village of San Jose, home to about 70 people on the Ucayali River just miles from where it flows into the Amazon, includes travel by air, bus and boat, leading them through the city of Iquitos in the northeastern portion of Peru to a modest lodge (mosquito netting, no electrical service) that they’ve stayed in on each trip so far.

They’ll commute by boat to the project site, a tiny cluster of dwellings surrounding a soccer field where severe flooding during the wettest part of the year makes it impossible to get to even the nearest neighbor’s house except by boat, said Chuck Corley, of Santa Rosa, a digital design engineer for National Instruments.

But while the region gets some 113 inches of rainfall each year, villagers are accustomed to frequent sickness, particularly among children, thanks to bacteria, parasites and other contaminants ever-present in their water despite time-consuming efforts to hike to the cleanest river spots to collect it.

“They’re always downstream from somewhere else,” said Steve Worrell, president of the Sonoma County EWB chapter.

The rain forest, said Corley, 57, who also made the trek last year, is somewhat otherworldly, so different is it from home. But the people, “are very much like us,” he said.

“They care about their kids. They want better things for them. They don’t want them to be sick.”

Phaidra Campbell, 36, a Marin County structural engineer, will see Peru for the first time, though she has worked on projects in other developing countries.

“You want to give some part of yourself to them, and in return, they give so much back to you. It’s a phenomenal experience,” she said.

The 7-year-old group, one of more than 200 mostly college- and university-based chapters of Engineers Without Borders, or EWB, around the nation, began pursuing the mission of clean water in Peru as an outgrowth of earlier work by a local woman named Pam Chanter, who organized similar efforts over the previous decade with funding by local service organizations.

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They work through a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization called Amazon Promise, which provides medical treatment and outreach in the region and helps identify and prioritize villages in need of assistance. The same agency recently coordinated with another nonprofit on installation of 12 composting toilets in San Jose, where Corley and Campanile are headed.

The design work, organization and fund-raising for the Sonoma engineers is done locally, however, and has been successful largely because of the support of local companies, organizers said.

Though the materials for a single treatment and storage system cost about $5,000, the two-week trek to get one installed is as much as $27,000 because of travel and precautionary expenses, organizers said. The team takes a doctor because of the remoteness of the villages, and hires its own cook, boat and boat captain as well.

Its three earlier projects, though installed in villages historically dependent on water supply tributaries at the headwaters of the Amazon in the northeastern part of Peru, were designed to take advantage of the much cleaner water that falls on the area each year.

Instead of replicating past efforts to treat and filter severely sullied river water, the team has designed a rain catchment system and a simple water treatment process using chlorine to purify the water and activated carbon to filter out the chlorine at the point the water is dispensed.

Since it rains year-round, relatively little storage space is adequate, and the whole system can be built in a small space, with materials that are locally sourced.

But the beauty is that there are no pumps or engines, and relatively few moving parts, so the operation and maintenance is easy and comparatively inexpensive.

A village water committee oversees the equipment and collects a little money here and there from villagers for necessary replacement of filters about once every 18 months, organizers said.

The engineering teams tailor each installation to the village, but the idea all along has been to design a system that can easily be reproduced, eliminating the expense of bringing down a U.S. team and hastening the speed with which rain forest villages in Peru and elsewhere can acquire clean water supplies.

“We can go down and, on a trip like this one, install one system, but also reach representatives from other villages nearby, (and say) ‘This is how you install it. This is how you operate it. These are the potential pitfalls,’ “ Worrell said.

Corley is even hoping to start soon on a manual that would spell out material lists and construction, operations and maintenance.

“That’s our next step,” he said.

But neighboring villagers already are working to duplicate what they’ve seen, for example, in Nuevo Loreto, population 105, where the team installed water treatment last year.

“There are quite a few villages that have asked for help,” Corley said.

Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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