Meeting Señor Ruti

Let me tell you an interesting story about the day I met Señor Ruti.

Who is Señor Ruti you might ask?

He is the manager of the water treatment plant in La Mesa, Panama. Our paths crossed one Monday morning when I stopped in La Mesa to try to figure out the source of the water at the Casa Llena house in San Miguel.

Señor Ruti inside the water treatment plant in La Mesa, Panama.

This particular Monday morning I woke up with the sunrise in Panama City at Kalu Yala’s apartment in Parque Urraca and took the MetroBus toward 24 de Deciembre.  In the town of 24 de Deciembre I exited the bus and paid for a taxi to take me up into the mountains toward San Miguel. My plan was to stop in La Mesa along the way to find information about the source of water at Casa Llena. I had been told to inquire at the police station in La Mesa because they helped past Kalu Yala interns and directors with questions.

Our house in San Miguel, se llama Casa Llena.

My main problem at this point was that nobody knew exactly where the water at our house came from. I had been told two different things. A past Kalu Yala director thought that the water was on a municipal supply from IDAAN. People in the town of San Miguel told me that their water comes from a water source, an arroyo or stream, or an ojo de agua or mountain spring, up toward the top of the mountain. This confused me. I did not think we were on municipal supply because every time it rains the water from the tap turns brown with sediment.

Through research I found out that IDAAN does not run service to San Miguel. There is municipal water in 24 de Deciembre but the water where we live in San Miguel is agua rural. This was confirmed on my second stop in La Mesa on the Monday I met Señor Ruti.

My first stop was the police station. I showed the 2 officers inside the address from the power bill and they told me we were agua rural and then directed me to another building down the street. Our street address reads, a lado del rio, which translates to next to the river.

Inside the second building I spoke with 2 women who confirmed that our water is agua rural. They explained that water sources for towns in the area can come directly from the Pacora River or be collected uphill, or arriba, from tributaries or mountain springs. All of this water, treated or untreated, is then stored in a tank. They suggested I go and talk with the teacher that speaks English at the primary school across the street. So I walked across the street, taxi driver Carlos in tow, and had a conversation with Leidelin Rodriguez, a teacher at the La Mesa Elementary School. She was telling me that La Mesa had its own water treatment plant up the hill when she looked over and saw Señor Ruti sitting on the bench at the entrance to the school. She pointed to him, told me who he was, and asked if I would like for her to ask if he would take me to the plant and show me around. We walked over to him, had a brief conversation, and moments later three of us were in the the cab headed up the street to have a look. Leidelin had to stay back at the school to teach. Here is what I found.

The water treatment plant in La Mesa consists of 2 buildings, I toured the one on the left.

Primary filter system, dirty water is sent back to the river through the pipe on the left side of the photo.

Five sand filters clean the water after bleach is added.

The bleach vat.

A pressurized pump measures the bleach and adds it to the water.

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