Center for International Water and Sustainability

International Circuit Rider Program

Approximately 750 million people do not have access to improved water sources and more than 2.4 billion people live without basic sanitation. Access to WASH is essential to developing countries’ efforts to meet socioeconomic and public health improvement targets, and building sustainable infrastructure is the first step to WASH service provision. The importance of WASH interventions to developing countries cannot be overstated.  WASH interventions have been shown to produce economic benefits ranging from US$5 to US$46 per US$1 invested. Investment in hygiene promotion, sanitation and safe water access is also one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce child mortality. Contaminated water and poor sanitation contribute to 88% of all diseases in the developing world (WHO/UNICEF, 2004) and more than 5,000 children die a day from poor hygiene practices, contaminated drinking water, and poor sanitation.

Today, the majority of rural and peri-urban communities in the developing world rely on small water systems serving 50 to 10,000 people.  Small systems struggle, however, to provide consistent and sustainable safe water access for a number of reasons, including a lack of funds and qualified staff to provide regular operations and maintenance, weak water committee governance, poor tariff settings and collection policies, a lack of a supply chain for spare parts and supplies, and aging infrastructure.

To address this challenge, CIWAS takes an approach of post-construction support and implements the International Circuit Rider program.

Since 1976, the Circuit Rider Program has worked in the United States to successfully address the needs of small WASH system operators and administrators, which are similar to those faced by developing nations. The program has a proven track record of increasing the institutional capacity of service providers by increasing the professional expertise of water operators, managers, and board members. A small group of qualified WASH technicians, known as Circuit Riders, rotate through a circuit of communities, providing advice and training to local operators on issues of sustainability, governance, treatment technologies, operations, and maintenance. Over time, the Circuit Riders increase the capacity of communities they serve to assume effective responsibility for their WASH systems.

Circuit Riders provide on-site support and training in three key areas:

Technical: Circuit Riders train local operators such as plumbers and operation and maintenance technicians on repairing water and sanitation systems and providing instruction on disinfection procedures, source water protection, and water quality sampling and monitoring protocols, as well as advice on upgrading and expanding water services.

Administration: To improve the administrative capacity of communities, Circuit Riders provide training to local water committee members in WASH governance, tariff setting and collection, basic accounting and bookkeeping, and accountability to users.

Community: There is a need to promote safe water handling and best hygiene and sanitation practices among community members. Training is designed to build the capabilities of water board committee members to do WASH promotion activities among water users.

In addition to these three areas, the training covers the principles of integrated water resources and watershed management.

The return on investment for Circuit Rider programs is clear:

  • Cost to build water systems: on average, $85 USD per household
  • Cost of failed services: on average, approximately 50% of investments have been wasted on failed water points.
  • Cost of poor services: on average, 11% of investments are wasted on water systems that provide bad services.
  • Cost of Circuit Rider program: less than $1 USD per household per year

Studies also indicate Circuit Rider programs significantly improve the reliability and quality of services. Overall, WASH interventions, assuming they lead to lasting services, have been shown to produce economic benefits ranging from USD $5 to USD $46 per USD $1 invested.

CIWAS has developed and implemented three Circuit Rider Programs to date in Ghana, Chile, and Honduras.

The success of the Circuit Rider model relies not only on the trained technicians themselves, but also the various players that operate and utilize WASH services. The host organization, such as a local government division, is responsible for overseeing the Circuit Riders and maintaining program sustainability.  Associations, or local water committees, manage the administrative aspects of the water systems that Circuit Riders help them oversee, while operators are responsible for the day-to-day activities of service provision.  Finally, customers of the service, who are the community members, make use of the WASH services provided and pay user fees.  While not all Circuit Rider programs follow this exact structure, this provides a framework to be modeled around.

CIWAS’ approach is focused on addressing the lack of qualified staff and financial resources, the previously identified barriers to sustainable WASH service provision in rural areas.  Integral to this approach is fostering strong partnerships with local governments or local organizations while increasing the technical and managerial capabilities of host organization and local technicians, who have the familiarity and knowledge to appropriately serve their associations, operators, and customers. By taking this approach, a framework to develop permanent support for the program is built up.

CIWAS provides operational support to set up the Circuit Rider program, followed by training for the host organization and Circuit Riders.  Operational support to the host organization is important to ensure that the program is implemented with all the parts in place. Thus, CIWAS helps hosts to adapt program guidelines to the specific context, identify stakeholders, and implement the program, and also provides guidance on ongoing activities such as financing, monitoring and evaluation, recruitment, and training. Then, CIWAS conducts training for both the host organization and the Circuit Riders to establish a foundational knowledge on WASH, while Circuit Riders receive more technical training that they will use in the field (which is optional for host organization staff). As CIWAS is not involved directly with community members, Circuit Riders are provided with the tools and training to do so. In general, CIWAS is involved in the program (implementation through follow-up) over the course of two years, beyond which the local government or local agency is expected to lead the program.

The origins of the International Circuit Rider program stem from the United States’ National Rural Water Association (NRWA).  The NRWA was formed in 1976 in response to the Safe Drinking Water Act, and provides technical support to small and rural water systems on a membership basis.  The Circuit Rider program was created by NRWA in 1980, formalizing this support through the provision of water and wastewater experts who would rotate through communities. The program was piloted in a few water systems in the state of Oklahoma and progressively expanded to assist its current base of over 31,000 members, training 100,000 people annually from 60,000 WASH facilities in 50 States.   NRWA’s services are provided in part through funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.

In early 1991, with the support from NRWA, a local organization from Honduras (AHJASA) adopted the Circuit Rider model.  In 1998, with financial assistance from USAID, the model was incorporated into the country’s water authority (SANAA).  By 2001, the CR program was providing technical assistance to almost 5,000 water utilities covering the whole country. The model was eventually adopted by other NGOs from El Salvador in 2001 (ASSA), and by Agua del Pueblo (ADP) in Guatemala, and in the Dominican Republic in 2005. The Peace Corps in Panama introduced the model into their WASH activities in 2011.

The Desert Research Institute has hosted the International Circuit Rider Program since 2013, and to further build local capacity for sustainable WASH systems has developed a training program, which uses the Circuit Rider methodology to set up technical assistance programs in target countries. The Circuit Rider program has a proven track record of increasing the institutional capacity of service providers by increasing the professional expertise of water operators, managers, and board members.

To date, CIWAS has implemented the Circuit Rider program successfully in Ghana, Chile, and Honduras.


In 2016, CIWAS partnered with the Community Water and Sanitation Agency and the University for Development Studies (UDS) to provide training and materials resources to six Area Mechanics, who already provided repair services to rural communities of a total population of 134,450.



CIWAS has partnered with Rotary, WASRAG and local NGO Honduran Association of Water System Administrators (AHJASA) to design more effective post-construction support for Rotary-sponsored water systems across Honduras.


CIWAS collaborated with social enterprise TOHL and the municipality of Río Hurtado in Chile on a post-construction support program for existing small water systems in the municipality.



In 2016, CIWAS partnered with the Community Water and Sanitation Agency and the University for Development Studies (UDS) to adapt and implement a pilot program in the East Gonja Municipal Assembly district. CIWAS provided training and materials resources to six Area Mechanics, who already provided repair services to rural communities of a total population of 134,450 (2010 census).


In 2015, 20% of rural Ghanaians lacked access to safe water according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program report. Ghana’s Community Water and Sanitation Agency (CWSA) found that approximately 26% of water systems in rural areas were nonfunctional and only approximately 6% were providing the service level people in Ghana are entitled to (Adank, 2016). Within the district of East Gonja, only 39% of hand pumps functioned properly. Forty-three percent did not function at all. The remainder functioned sub-optimally, producing water only after five strokes of the pump (IRC, 2015).  Two main challenges are at the root of these problems: a lack of professional capacity and a lack of sufficient funding.


The Circuit Rider model addressed these challenges by providing additional training to technicians and administrators.  By receiving training in topics including water quality testing, financial management, and record-keeping, the new Circuit Riders have increased their scope of services and acquired entrepreneurial skills and thus, a steady stream of income so that they can maintain their position as a Circuit Rider.  By training administrators as well, the model ensures that WASH services are managed holistically and that monitoring systems are in place as administrators review and analyze data that has been collected periodically by Circuit Riders.

The training topics included:

Circuit Rider training

  • Administrative tools and skills for guiding water committees
  • Community behavior change principals
  • Small-business tools and skills
  • Use of cellphone and internet-based portals in WASH

District Assemblies and Area Councils

  • Monitoring, evaluation, learning, and reporting
  • Stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities for management
  • Procurement and contracting
  • Financial management, reporting, and sustainability

An additional challenge revealed through this project was that of transportation, which prevented the mechanics from reaching their communities reliably.  Thus, CIWAS partnered with the District Assembly to loan motor tricycles to the Circuit Riders, which also provides a source of additional income for them.


CIWAS has partnered with Rotary, WASRAG and local NGO Honduran Association of Water System Administrators (AHJASA) to design more effective post-construction support for Rotary-sponsored water systems across Honduras. To date, over 90 Rotary-sponsored water systems have been built in Honduras, representing an investment of approximately US$ 5 million. DRI completed an assessment of the functionality of these systems across Honduras in 2017 and completed a final report of findings and recommendations. Though most systems were found to be operational, the majority were not providing water 24/7 and were not being optimally managed and run.  (Link to Summary Report and Recommendation). In the next stage of this project, DRI will provide capacity-building workshops to address technical knowledge gaps of small water system managers identified through the assessment. To learn more information, read the Summary of Study Results and Recommendations on the Honduras WASH Project: An Evaluation of Rotary-Funded Water Systems.


CIWAS collaborated with social enterprise TOHL and the municipality of Río Hurtado in Chile on a post-construction support program for existing small water systems in the municipality.  In response to the municipality’s need to build resiliency into their water systems, CIWAS conducted an assessment, identified areas for improvement, and developed training materials for local technicians.  Meanwhile, TOHL recruited an individual Circuit Rider to oversee the communities, and the municipality coordinated activities and services.

Through training provided by the Circuit Rider, the community operators became more knowledgeable about the mechanics and electrical workings of their systems, enabling them to operate their infrastructure more efficiently. The Circuit Rider also assisted community water boards in submitting proposals to the Department of Water Works for capital improvements and facilitated networking opportunities between communities to encourage collaborative work.

CIWAS provided the municipality and TOHL with guidance and technical assistance on designing a Circuit Rider program specifically tailored to Río Hurtado’s needs as well a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) framework to assess impact. Meetings were also held at La Serena University with Cazalac – the Regional Water Center for Arid and Semi-Arid Zones in Latin America and the Caribbean- to discuss the potential of participating in CIWAS’ WASH Capacity Building Program.

Braimah Apambire, Director, Center for International Water and Sustainability (CIWAS), DRI

Dr. Apambire is Senior Assistant to the President for Global Sustainability and Director of the Center for International Water and Sustainability at the Desert Research Institute, Dr. Apambire is an expert in international Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) and development matters with extensive field, academic, teaching, grant making and management experience.  He has a deep understanding of the importance of integrating WASH programming into other development sectors such as health, agriculture, education, environment, gender and micro-finance, as well as the importance of strong partnerships to ensure long-term sustainability. Prior to returning to DRI, Dr. Apambire served as a Senior Advisor at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, where he managed the Foundation’s WASH grant portfolio and represented the Foundation to the broader WASH sector. He was also previously the Director of the WASH Sector at World Vision US where he led the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of global WASH strategies and large-scale integrated sustainable programs. Early in his career, Dr. Apambire worked with the World Vision Ghana Rural Water Project as a hydrogeologist where he was involved in the siting, design and construction of over 500 water supply systems in about 400 remote and guinea endemic communities and institutions in Ghana. He has researched and published numerous papers, articles and reports on WASH issues in developing countries, and on water quality and human health. Dr. Apambire received his B.S. from the University of Ghana; M.S. from Carleton University, Canada; and his Ph.D. from the University of Nevada, Reno.

Victoria Cuéllar, LOA Program Manager

Victoria Cuéllar is a Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) expert with over 10 years of experience. She holds a master of public health from Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and has focused her career on WASH within the global context, primarily in Latin America. She started her career at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a Department of Health and Human Services fellow. During her fellowship she developed an interest for small water systems in Central America and the challenges faced by these. Her subsequent work at CDC has been focused on WASH and project management. During the Haiti 2010 earthquake and subsequent cholera outbreak, Ms. Cuéllar helped to develop modules to train local residents in rural communities to adequately chlorinate and protect their water supplies, and to help identify and alert authorities to new cholera cases. She has managed various WASH projects in the field, this has included developing training materials and delivery of these to her staff for proper execution of projects. Ms. Cuéllar also has considerable experience in developing monitoring and evaluation (M&E) plans for clients to measure the health impacts of their WASH interventions. Using her WASH expertise and native English and Spanish skills, she has begun focusing her efforts on aiding organizations in the translation of their technical documents and other materials. Prior to attending Emory University, she received a bachelor of science from Baylor University. At Baylor, she focused her efforts on biology and medical entomology. Ms. Cuéllar decided on a career in health while attending high school in rural Tlaxcala, Mexico.

Michael Curley, Visiting Scholar, Environmental Law Institute

Michael Curley is a lawyer who has spent the majority of his career in project finance and the last 30 years in energy and environmental finance.  He joined the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) as a Visiting Scholar in 2013. Mr. Curley has just written Paying for Tomorrow, which was published by ELI in July 2018. He is also the author of Finance Policy for Renewable Energy and a Sustainable Environment, published by Taylor & Francis in 2014. In 1990, Mr. Curley was appointed to the Environmental Financial Advisory Board at EPA, where he served for 21 years under four Presidents. Over the last 20 years, he has taught environmental & energy finance and law courses at the Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University as well as Vermont Law School.  He founded the Environmental Finance Centers at the University of Maryland, Syracuse University and Cleveland State University.

David Douglas, Director, Waterlines

Nancy Gilbert, Executive Director, Transform International

Transform International is a network of independent in-country Community Transformation Centres across the developing world building local capacity, sharing knowledge, fostering collaboration, and addressing issues of sustainability in water, sanitation and hygiene, and other development interventions. Over the previous six years, Nancy was the Manager, Appropriate Technology Enabled Development program for PIND, an NGO in the Niger Delta, Nigeria. She is also the Project Manager for Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group (WASRAG) in its WASH in Schools collaboration with Procter & Gamble, H2O for Life, and implementing partners for WASH in the Niger Delta, Nigeria. The partnership is working with 30 schools in southern Nigeria to facilitate behavior change, improved and reliable water supply, toilets, and handwashing and other hygiene facilities. Recently, Nancy completed her doctorate on ‘Improving Sanitation in the Niger Delta’, and presented her research at the 2017 Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) in Loughborough, UK. A lawyer by profession, Nancy practiced law for 8 years in Ontario and 2 years in New Brunswick before starting an advertising agency with her husband Paul. Subsequently Nancy worked in marketing communications and brand strategy consulting until settling into her real passion – water, sanitation, and hygiene development. Having joined Rotary in 1994, Nancy served as Club President (1999), GST Team Leader (2002), and District Governor of Rotary District 7810 (2003-2004). She was the inaugural Rotary Coordinator for Zone 24 east in 2008, and has served in various roles at the district and zone level, and served on the Board and as a volunteer for WASRAG. Currently, Nancy is a member of the WASH e-club made up of Rotarians from around the world with a strong passion for WASH.

Daniele Lantagne, Associate Professor, Tufts University

Daniele is an Associate Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Tufts University.  She is a public health engineer (MIT BS 1996, MIT M.Eng. 2001, PE 2003) who received her Ph. Din 2011 from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  She began working in water, sanitation, and hygiene to reduce the burden of infectious disease while earning her Master’s degree, and continued working in this field teaching in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT until she joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2003. She completed her post-doctoral work at Harvard’s Center for International Development from 2010-2012, and joined Tufts University as a Professor in 2012. Over the past sixteen years, she provided technical assistance or conducted research in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, and Central/South America in both development and emergency contexts. She has published over 50 papers on water supply, water treatment, hygiene and sanitation in developing countries and is a technical advisor to Potters for Peace, FilterPure, and charity: water.  Her main research interest is how to reduce the burden of infectious diseases by investigating and evaluating the effectiveness of water and sanitation interventions. She runs an active group completing laboratory, field, and policy research and currently supervises one post-doctoral student, six Ph.D., and undergraduate researchers with funding from agency, government, NGO, foundation, and private sources.

Michael Paddock, PE,PS. Engineers Without Borders (EWB) USA

Michael Paddock, PE,PS. has a BS in Civil Engineering and a BS in Surveying from Michigan Technological University.  He is a licensed professional engineer in New Mexico and Wisconsin and licensed professional surveyor in Wisconsin.  He co-founded the Engineering Service Corp for EWB-USA which provides pro bono engineering services to governments and nonprofit organizations using its most experienced members.  His focus is on water supply / treatment, wastewater conveyance and treatment and bridges.  He has 20 years of experience working internationally on development projects, completing projects on five continents.  He has specific experience with Rural Water Technicians / Circuit Rider programs in Guatemala.  Prior to joining EWB-USA, he worked for 25 years for CH2M on domestic and international programs.

Peter Rogers, Associate Professor, Georgia Southern University

Dr. Pete Rogers is an associate professor at Georgia Southern University.  Prior to joining the university, he worked at the University of Texas at Tyler, the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers’ Institute for Water Resources, and spent several years working throughout Latin America on water and sanitation projects including a three-year term with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as the national supervisor of a 15-million-dollar rural water reconstruction program that completed over 1,500 water systems and 40,000 latrines. In addition to his service as a member in the International Circuit Rider Advisory board, he is active in several other organizations including: Engineers Without Borders; the American Society for Engineering Education; the Georgia Association of Water Professionals; and leadership roles in several technical committees within the American Water Works Association.

Steve Werner, Consultant, Steve Werner Consulting

Steve Werner has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit management and consulting with local, national international nonprofit organizations helping them to build stronger programs, fundraising plans, marketing, recruiting volunteer leaders, developing board and staff leadership and long-term strategic planning. He most recently served as the Executive Director for the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (IPSCAN), a multidisciplinary international organization that brings together a worldwide cross-section of committed professionals to work toward the prevention and treatment of child abuse, neglect and exploitation globally. Werner also held the role of Executive Director for Water For People, an international nonprofit organization based in Denver, Colo., whose mission is to assist people in developing nations gain access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation. In addition to working with Water For People, Werner has also worked for three of the largest and most successful nonprofit organizations in the United States. He rose rapidly to senior management positions with the American Cancer SocietyCARE, and Habitat for Humanity International. Also, he is an experienced small business owner, having previously owned Creative Leadership Solutions, a consulting business assisting nonprofit groups. He is knowledgeable in all aspects of nonprofit management, administration, program development and fundraising. His experience has helped both small and large national and international clients. Werner is a Fellow of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan, and of the Salzburg Seminar in Salzburg, Austria. He is a past chairman of the National Peace Corps Association, the Peace Corps alumni organization. He has also served in leadership positions with Rotary at the club, district and international levels. He is the past chair for the Center for Teaching International Relations and currently chairs the fundraising committee.


Victoria Cuéllar
Program Manager


Desert Research Institute
2215 Raggio Parkway
Reno, NV 89512


Hydrologic Sciences

Circuit Rider Methodology

Read the DRI/CIWAS Program Summaries, Stories, and Successes report to learn more on the program’s implementations.