Unique Tank Construction Highlights Dominican Republic Work

In three weeks, Mercer students transformed an empty hillside lot in the Sabana Bonita community around El Cercado, Dominican Republic into a 15,000 gallon stone-built water tank. 

This was the eighth tank Mercer had helped build and added to the more than 30 stone tanks that have been constructed in the region, said community organizer and project developer Joana Peterson. 

“We used to do these cement ones where you’d roll the cement, then we did block ones but they all leaked,” Peterson said. “These stone tanks last forever. We won’t be around to find out.” Peterson said of the  30 stone tanks in El Cercado she has helped build. “ It’s also less expensive because we have a lot of the raw material right here.”  

The 2023 tank will replace a smaller, concrete tank that was built in 2005.

To provide more access to water, but also a more reliable source of water, the new Sabana Bonita tank was to be created out of stone. Felix Manuel del Jesus Minyety, a Dominican stone tank specialist, worked and oversaw the construction of the tank along with help from Mercer engineering students and local volunteers. 

Minyety is an engineer from the province of San José de Ocoa and has been working on water system tanks for 21 years. 

“I started working on the aqueduct systems through Peace Corps volunteers. I knew of the construction of systems of houses, but I did not have as much knowledge of engineering,” Minyety said through a translator. 

Minyety explained that many volunteers from the Peace Corps provided aid in his community, which prompted him to begin work with the organization. 

Mercer students worked with members of the Sabana Bonita community in the El Cercado region of the Dominican Republic to construct a new stone water tank. The first step in the process is to dig a trench for the foundation. (Matt Smith)

“They liked how I worked. Then, those Peace Corps volunteers decided to stay longer in the Dominican Republic and they ran an American institution and they later saw that I was worth it and they hired me to work with them,” he said. “And there I continued to learn more and more with them.”

Minyety has gained a positive reputation from many communities and Peterson says he is often referred to as the only person who can build stone tanks in the Dominican Republic.

“The first stone tank that I built here today, it is working well, and I see that the community, even though there are difficulties sometimes due to the situation of the bad times, they are receiving their water,” Minyety said. 

From May 31 to June 16, Mercer students and locals worked  on the tank construction. Due to the lack of accessible roads and equipment, much of the process was done by hand. 

The first step of the construction process was to dig a trench so that a better foundation for the tank can be created. 

Mercer engineering student Lauren Folsom cuts rebar as part of the stone water tank construction process. Students with Mercer On Mission helped construct this tank in the Sabana Bonita community of El Cercado, Dominican Republic from May 31-June 17, 2023. (Matt Smith)

“The way to do the digging is the people use the pickaxe first, because the soil’s pretty tough, and then you shovel it out. When we get down to about a foot and a half, eventually then we’re gonna put a concrete floor, and then we’ll fill the foundation as well with concrete, “ said Dr. Natalia Cardelino, who is a Mercer civil engineering professor and leader of the Mercer On Mission trip.

Once the trench had been formed, students and locals began to construct the foundation and walls of the tank by using locally sourced stones, rebar, and a cement mixture. 

“The walls are stone and mortar so we have a group that is actually mixing the mortar. Mortar is just a mixture of cement, sand and water and then they take the mortar in buckets and they give it to the people working the walls and the walls are made of stone and mortar and then more mortar,” Cardelino said. 

The group also used steel vertical bars and a steel hoop every three feet to ensure the strength of the wall. When the walls were just over six feet, the focus moved to the construction of the lid. This required building forms for the concrete top out of  recycled wood and plywood.

“The lid is going to have a hole — an access point — so people can go in and out of the tank and clean out the tank when needed. So, the form is built out of wood for the form of the lid and then we pour that with concrete,” Cardelino said. 

“So we have a concrete lid and then the last step once that gets cured and hardened, the inside of the tank gets plastered and then we can fill it with water,” Cardelino said.

Later, the community will run piping to the neighboring households with the goal of each home having its own faucet.

Mercer engineering student Lauren Folsom ‘26 was a part of the tank construction.

“It was really cool to see the finished tank because we are now able to point to something to see what we did. I am so excited for the community to be able to use the water tank and I am so excited we got to make a lasting impact on the community,” Folsom said. 

Folsom’s work, along with several other Mercer students’ contributions, will provide water for 88 families in the Sabana Bonita community.