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Joseph Saitabao saw perennial water where no one else did. He saw it around Mount Suswa, Kenya, where no one lived during the dry season due to the lack of water. During the rainy season, people would get by on rooftop water harvested in tanks, or runoff captured in ephemeral ponds they built. But when tanks and ponds dried up people would leave until the rains returned. Joseph, however, saw untapped water in the form of steam arising from natural vents in the earth.

He got the idea for how to harvest this water by observing a geothermal plant while he was looking for work in another area with steam vents near Hell’s Gate National Park, 100 kilometers away. Undeterred by his lack of formal education, Joseph taught himself how to harvest that steam through innovation and experimentation.

Into a steam vent outlet Joseph inserted a chimney of scavenged plastic pipe that rose a short distance before bending down toward the ground. Steam condensed in the pipe and then started to trickle out the pipe in liquid form. A metal barrel was placed to collect the water.

Joseph discovered that the steam condensed more readily in larger-diameter pipe, and that PVC pipe could handle the heat of the steam. Then he built a new collection chimney of PVC pipes 3 and 4 inches (75 and 100 millimeters) in diameter (figs. 1–3 (click to enlarge)). He was soon harvesting one barrel of water per night in the dry season.

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01 IMG_4543 steam harvest rwm

Fig. 1. Jeremiah at Joseph’s first steam harvester

02 IMG_4544 steam harvest rwm

Fig. 2. Condensed steam collected in a metal barrel

03 IMG_4545 steam harvest rwm

Fig. 3. View of first steam harvester from above

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The story of Joseph’s steam-harvesting innovations continues on Brad’s Drops In a Bucket blog, along with more about how Joseph’s ingenuity and generosity benefit his family and the Mount Suswa community, plus a bit about his brother Jeremiah’s own good works and their origin.

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