ISLP Engineering-focused Trip to Peru

ISLP_Peru_2The summer of 2018, the J.B. Speed School of Engineering initiated their first-ever engineering-focused International Service Learning Program. Led by Dr. Thomas Rockaway from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, students from Civil, Mechanical and Chemical Engineering worked together to help address irrigation system challenges in the farming community of Sacclio, Peru.  Through a 10-week course, culminating in a 17-day in-country experience, the students worked to identify, prepare, and complete a digital mapping project of the original Incan irrigation systems.

During their class, the University of Louisville students, working with local farmers through Skype, learned that the Sacclio farmers are using irrigation channels originally constructed by the Incas in the 1400s, and modernized by the Peruvian government in 1985. Unfortunately, the channels are deteriorating and ultimately may not provide the necessary water resources.  Without sufficient water, agricultural crops are stressed, reducing their production, the available food for the community and the farmers’ livelihoods.

The farmers consistently work to preserve their water supply and maintain their irrigation system. Every two months, the community members participate in work days to clean the canals and perform critical repairs. Additionally, select work teams respond quickly to any emergency repairs that are needed. However, there are no records kept or documentation of the system. Any information regarding the canal system is only maintained through the collective knowledge of the community.

As the canISLP_Peru_1als continue to deteriorate and water resources become more scarce, it is clear that larger canal refurbishment projects will be required.  In order for the community to make good decisions on where and how to repair their systems, they need good information.  Thus, the students determined that it would be essential to prepare a detailed map of the existing irrigation network.  A detailed map would also fulfill a secondary function because the Peruvian government has recently declared that detailed maps are a prerequisite to qualify for irrigation infrastructure repair funds.

To complete the mapping project, the students identified a variety of surveying techniques that could meet their goals.  After much consideration, they selected an iPad-based Geographical Information System (GIS) augmented with high accuracy GPS units.  With this equipment, they could work to not only develop a map of the irrigation channels, but also to create a digital database with photo references for valves, channel condition and other critical features.


The students successfully mapped 347 acres containing 4.9 miles of canals, over 500 distinguishing feature locations (valves, drops, deterioration), with over 1,500 photos.  This information was transferred to a locally based non-profit, the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development, who can manage the digital mapping and works with the community to design and implement new projects.

In addition to the field mapping, the students also had the opportunity to visit other communities and review their irrigation systems.  The students also visited the hot springs of Lares, the waterfalls of Yucay, and the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.

Overall, the first-ever engineering focused ISLP trip was a success.  The students were able to use their engineering skills to create a digital map that will be a significant benefit to the Sacclio community.   More trips are planned to initiate mapping projects in different farming communities and to expand our understanding of the Sacclio systems.