Aging Soviet pumps are replaced.

Well water pumps provide new reliability and water supply for Mongolian sheepherders. Facing economic catastrophe due to a growing water shortage, nomadic herders in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia have turned to 4-inch submersible well water pumps as part of a solution to reactivate inoperable wells.

With a population of about 2.5 million, the country of Mongolia is situated in East Asia, sandwiched between northern China and the southern Siberian region of Russia. With extremes of temperature and a very arid landscape dominated by the huge Gobi desert region, Mongolia is a place where humans and animals live on the knife-edge of environmental sustainability. Because of its strategic location as a small buffer state between Russia and China and its progress toward democracy and free markets, Mongolia is of major interest to the United States.

Herders Run Out of Water

Nomadic herding - primarily sheep herding - is one of the central ways of life in Mongolia. Cashmere, hides and meat products are a major source of foreign cash revenue in the country.

After the fall of communism in 1991 and the privatization of livestock, herders chose to grow the numbers of their herds under the “get rich quickly” spirit that dominated the newly freed market economy. As a result, the traditional respect toward nature and rational use of resources that were the basis of nomadic pastoral life suffered.

According to a recent newspaper article from Mongolia, “The extremely hot temperatures that persisted for about 20 days killed more than 100 head of sheep and goats of herder Mr. O. Bataa. About 20 horses also died. Experts concluded that the animals died from dehydration.”

As part of an economic initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to improve the lot of the Mongolian herders and the economy at large, the USAID ran right into the water supply problem. According to Larry Cerrillo, a hydrogeologist sent to Mongolia to analyze the situation, “They couldn't do very much to help the sheepherders if there was inadequate water supply.”

A major source of the water supply problem was caused by the breakup of the Soviet Union. When the Russians abandoned Mongolia in the early 1990s, they left thousands of antiquated well pumps with no way to procure spare parts or maintain their operation. Cerrillo notes that the Mongolian herders began to sell the broken pumps to the Chinese for scrap metal. “So what we were left with basically was a hole in the ground,” says Cerrillo. “In many cases, they were filled in by rocks and were not usable. However, there were many wells that had the potential to be put back on line.” According to one report, more and more rural Gobi wells are being destroyed or vandalized, largely because the state-led privatization process in the countryside has not clearly stipulated who would own wells, who could use them and who would be responsible for their maintenance and repair.

Fred Clise, export manager from Goulds Pumps Water Technology Division, recalls that, “There are thousands of wells that formerly received their spare parts and maintenance through the Soviet Union. Now when the pumps break down, the herders can't get water out of the ground.” Clise notes that there are a variety of well depths, ranging from 30 feet to more than 200 feet.

After his initial survey, the hydrogeologist, Larry Cerrillo was sent back to Mongolia as a consultant for Land O'Lakes Inc. This U.S.-based agricultural company provides contract services for governmental organizations such as USAID to implement and manage aid programs. In fact, UAID has working relationships with more than 3,500 American companies and more than 300 U.S.-based private voluntary organizations.

Upon his return to Mongolia, Cerrillo identified approximately 40 well sites for rehabilitation. Although there was no modern drilling equipment to be found in Mongolia, Cerrillo says that these sites were redeveloped to the point where they could be set up with pumps again.

Cerrillo notes that, “We looked at solar and wind power. It turned out the most economical way to supply water was a submersible pump with a small generator. With the broken well pumps, the sheepherders had mostly hand-dug wells and they were using buckets to get the water.”

Harsh Conditions

As an independent hydrogeologist working in the mountain regions of Colorado, Cerrillo had good experience with Goulds pumps and recommended them for service in these Mongolian wells.

Goulds Pumps supplied a total of 26, 50-cycle, GSZ model well water pumps. These 4-inch below-ground pumps are designed for residential and small municipal and agricultural water supply as well as light irrigation applications. “They picked Goulds submersible pumps because of our experience in the well water business and our reputation for reliability,” says Clise. “The GSZ is our basic, global submersible pump. The one thing with our submersibles is that there are almost no spare parts needed, with the exception of motors and starters.”

Clise says that one of the big issues facing the run life of these pumps is the extreme cold temperatures of minus 30 degrees F to 40 degrees F. For this type of application, frost-free hydrants were required as well as making sure that the water lines were not going to freeze. “We decided to use frost-free hydrants that would leak back into the well when the pump was shut down, and run garden hoses from the frost-free hydrants to actually fill the tanks for the sheep,” recalls Clise. In addition to the pumps, Goulds Pumps supplied the frost-free hydrants and fittings, the drop cable and the motors.

Providing the technology for a frost-free well is extremely important in this area where herd animals may need watering three to four times a week and where it takes hours of hard work to produce enough water from a frozen well.

Changing Lifestyle

Lori Anderson, a senior project officer for Land O'Lakes, notes that because of changes taking place in Mongolian society as well as the water shortage, the nomadic herders are reevaluating their lifestyle. In one recent news article, a herder said, “We had to settle near an existing well, and in order to be able to water the livestock, we have to get up at five o'clock in the morning and stand in a line at the well. Sometimes we have to spend the whole day at the well waiting for our turn. And when the livestock of the last person in line make it to the well, there often is no water left. That herder's livestock are then left without water for two to three days.”

“There is a tremendous problem with degradation of the range land,” notes Anderson. One of the results of this degradation is that animals are being forced to graze in smaller and smaller areas. “With wells breaking down, there are fewer and fewer places herders can go to get the animals watered.” Taking a broader view of the water problem, Land O'Lakes is helping to tackle problems such as repairing, rehabilitating and maintaining the wells and helping the herders form grass roots regional cooperatives.

A Drop in the Bucket

While the 26 well water pumps from Goulds Pumps will begin the process of assisting water-starved regions in Mongolia, there are opportunities for many more of the reliable pumps. In one economic report on Mongolia, only one in five wells remained operational out of total 24,600 built during previous 40 years.