Does the Water Mafia Exist?

Factory owner Radhames Carela holds a newly fired ceramic water filter, explaining to the group how the filtration process works through a combination of locally sourced clay, sawdust and outsourced silver. Photo by Christopher Rolinson.
From May 2nd to the 9th, a group of Point Park University Environmental Journalism students traveled to the city of Santiago de los Caballeros in the heart of the Dominican Republic. There, they partnered with Wine to Water, a nonprofit that uses sustainable sources to create water filters unique to each country it helps. The students stayed at the water filter factory, while creating and delivering clay-filters to families throughout the region. During the following week, check back as they share their experiences here.

Written by Erica Schey

When you hear about the Dominican Republic what do you think? Many think of it as a vacation spot with white sandy beaches and blue waters. But, outside the walls of the resorts, is a lot of poverty and a real need for clean water.

On a recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I had the pleasure of working with an organization called Wine to Water to distribute ceramic water filters to surrounding areas. Many families don’t have access to clean drinking water, which causes many health issues like diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, nausea, fever and even death. Every 20 seconds a child dies of a waterborne illness and 443 million school days are lost each year from water related illnesses. Common sources for drinking water range from contaminated water wells, river and streams, and rain water. Some are fortunate enough to have the money and access to purchase large water jugs for their drinking water.  This is the part that brought the question to mind, is there a “water mafia” that controls people’s access to clean drinking water?

When following up with people in Bonagua, many of the households mentioned that the water filters were saving them a great deal of money. Anywhere from 300 to 1,000 pesos a month. This was all because they don’t have to buy the jugs of clean water anymore.

However, some households mentioned that they have only cut back on how many jugs they buy because they didn’t want to tell the people that sell them that they didn’t need them anymore. Is this because of fear or is it because those people lively hoods depend on the sales of clean water?

While we know, we are doing good by building and distributing water filters so that families can have less health issues and save money. It brings up the question, could these filters be having an adverse effect on the people that distribute these water jugs? It is believed that it is a big enough business that if a few families in the community stop buying jugs of water it wouldn’t impact the bottom line of the business. But as we do more and more work in these communities and hand out more and more filters, when will it impact the bottom line? When does our good work become bad for others?

Erica Schey is a recent graduate of Point Park University’s Department of Natural Sciences, Engineering & Technology M.S program. Schey is pictured above (right) sculpting a ceramic water filter.


  1. It is great to see environmental issues tackled through journalistic expression, but I lived in this community for some time and may be able to offer another perspective. The water filter manufacturer is a local technology being run and managed by local technicians who were trained by scientists to make an effective and affordable filter. It has helped give employment to many, and helped hundreds of communities. It is a reasonable and ecologically sound answer to the water crisis in that country. It is completely a grass roots organization that now hosts teams and has assistance from wine to water. This is the type of business that needs to be encouraged in developing nations like the DR. The water on the other hand is run by big businesses in the capital. It is overpriced and not sustainable for the Dominicanan lifestyle. We see this same conflict in the US, big business vs. local. Perhaps you don’t know the history of the filter manufacturing in the DR, but as you look into it, you will find a rare gem of sustainable technology that has a zero carbon footprint and an example to other nations.


    1. Thank you for your opinion, Lisa! Erica’s opinion article was commenting on how doing good by distributing cermamic water filters may also be hurting those who sell water in plastic bottles around the community, as people switch to a more sustainable option over a consumer option. Only a comment on how many people live in a community, and how one action creates a reaction. Thank you!


  2. Also, I don’t know if you are aware, but this project won the global energy award for the Dominican Republic in 2014.


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