On a mission: Colorado Springs woman works to provide safe drinking water in India, Africa

By Michelle Karas Updated: December 18, 2017 at 1:56 am • Published: August 27, 2017 0
photo - Jacqueline Lundquist works with WaterHealth International to provide safe drinking water to underserved communities in over 500 locations across the world, including India and Africa. Jacqueline is the wife of former Colorado College president and Ambassador to India, Dick Celeste.  (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)
Jacqueline Lundquist works with WaterHealth International to provide safe drinking water to underserved communities in over 500 locations across the world, including India and Africa. Jacqueline is the wife of former Colorado College president and Ambassador to India, Dick Celeste. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

The scarf Jacqueline Lundquist wore recently was flowing and summery, white with a background of waves and water droplets, adorned with blue tassels. A pattern of water.

It's a symbol of her mission to provide safe drinking water to communities in India where clean water is scarce.

Lundquist's passion for India was kindled when she and husband Richard F. "Dick" Celeste honeymooned there in 1995. In the late 1990s, she and Celeste returned to live in Delhi while he served as U.S. ambassador to India under President Bill Clinton.

In 2001, Celeste - a former governor of Ohio - became president of Colorado College, a role he filled until July 2011. The couple still travels abroad often, but they call Colorado Springs home. Lundquist often goes to India for WaterHealth International, for which she is chief serendipity officer - a title she prefers to her official one, vice president of corporate affairs. She joined the company in 2010.

The goal of the Irvine, Calif.-based business is to facilitate clean water in India and, more recently, in Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia. It does so with the backing of blue chip investors including Dow Chemical Co., Coca-Cola, the International Finance Corp., the Tata Group and the Acumen Fund.

Statistics the company references on its brochure:

- About 1 in 9 people worldwide doesn't have access to clean water.

- Every 60 seconds, a child dies from a waterborne disease.

- In developing countries, 80 percent of illnesses are linked to contaminated water and sanitation conditions.

U.S. water gets contaminated, too. We see it close to home in Fountain and as an ongoing problem in Flint, Mich.

"In India, it's an infrastructure issue. In Delhi, for instance, there's an apartment building where they get access to water for one hour a week. And that water is not clean. There's a massive pollution problem," Lundquist said.

Groundwater in India's capital territory of Delhi, with a population of 27 million, is highly contaminated. The Hindustan Times reports that 70 percent of Delhi's water is unsafe to drink.

WaterHealth India plans to roll out 20 water purification centers by 2020, with a goal of 50 centers and 350 stores across Delhi's 11 districts, serving 1.5 million people. WaterHealth International aims to provide safe drinking water to 100 million people by 2020. It is projected to reach 10 million people by the end of 2017, the Hindu Businessline reported Aug. 21.

Spreading the word

Lundquist, a former television reporter, shares India's water issues with her wide social network.

"When we lived in India, we had 280 house guests. When Dick and I traveled, we took them with us," Lundquist said. "When we got back to the U.S., we started doing two-week tours of India. Now, our trips benefit WaterHealth International."

Those who go see a WaterHealth center open, and part of the $15,000 or so paid for the trip goes to fund it.

"People enjoy themselves more when they combine fun with giving back," Lunduist told The Huffington Post recently, "and when they see their names inscribed in marble as the donors of a water plant that is providing clean drinking water to some 10,000 villagers, they feel satisfied."

Some Colorado College alumni go more than once.

"There's no one we know who hasn't helped in some capacity, and it's all for a good cause," she said. "I've never monetized any relationship I have, but for this I will."

Celebrity support has come from actors Jon Cryer and Linda Purl and the Beach Boys, with whom Lundquist has worked.

WaterHealth also has a partnership with Travel & Leisure Magazine, which markets the trips to its readers.

Lundquist said she spends two months a year in India and plans to return in October.

The next India trip for patrons is set for March 24 to April 7, 2018. Two or three spots are left, Lundquist said. Email her at jlundquist@waterhealth.com if you're interested in joining the trip.

What is it about India that draws Lundquist back?

"Every day when you leave your front door, you'll see 10 things that, seeing even one of them would make you talk about it for days," she said. "There are the sensory things - the smells, the heat and dust; the beauty, the ugliness. It's just exciting."

An asset to the community

The centers are room-sized water purification plants that take $30,000 and 21 days to build. They clean water using ultra UV filtration and "will run forever, basically," Lundquist said. "Then we have a contract to run it for 25 years."

After the for-profit center's quarter-century in one site, it's given to the community, or the contract can be renewed.

"As soon as we build this, it becomes an asset to the community. On Day 1, we hire an operator - and a third of those are women."

The centers are open 12 to 18 hours a day, hiring not only operators, but also maintenance teams. "So we are a great provider of jobs in India - we have 2,000 employees," Lundquist said.

More than 500 of the company's water centers run in India, and more than 200 are in Africa. The urban water centers subsidize construction of rural centers.

"Women who are customers used to have to walk miles to get water for their families. These centers are centrally located," Lundquist said.

Each center can serve 10,000 people. Most customers come every other day.

"My favorite part is a WaterHealth center dedication, because you know you've given back in a country where there's a simpler lifestyle," Lundquist said. "It gives you a sense of community."

WaterHealth centers produce about 370,000 gallons of purified water a day. The product is branded Dr. Water, appropriate given that health-care costs have dropped in communities with the centers, Travel & Leisure reported.

Portable, potable water

WaterHealth International has other ways to deliver clean water, too.

An Autonomous Transportable Operating Module (ATOM) is a truck-sized unit storing a water purification system with a shelf life of 25 years. It costs about $100,000 and can be trucked or flown to a disaster site.

"Bottled water is no longer an issue with this, our newest thing, and I think it's the future of emergency response," Lundquist said. "We've been talking to FEMA. Flint, Michigan, is on day 500 of its water crisis. They've spent $13 million on bottled water. Now all that plastic is a pollutant."

WaterHealth also has installed water vending machines in more than 1,000 railway stations in India and has contracted to install 550 more through a partnership with the Indian Railway Catering Corp., the Hindu Businessline reported.

For 10 rupees, about 15 cents, you can fill your cup with water.

WaterHealth also works in schools, and students can take water home from their school center.

WaterHealth wants to expand into East Africa and Asia - Indonesia and Vietnam.

"It's all about figuring out good funding partners," Lundquist said.

Says a company brochure: "WaterHealth consumer households were approximately nine times less likely to fall prey to a waterborne disease compared to non-consumer households."

The company in July won the Unilever Global Development Award for providing safe, affordable drinking water in marginalized communities in India, Ghana and Nigeria.

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