Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)

Degree Granting Department

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Major Professor

James R. Mihelcic, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael F. MacCarthy, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Andres E. Tejada-Martinez, Ph.D.


handpump, shallow groundwater, Self-supply, low-income countries, atmospheric pressure, drinking water, Sustainable Development Goals


With 663 million people still without access to an improved drinking water source, there is no room for complacency in the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 6.1: “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all” by 2030 (WHO, 2017). All of the current efforts related to water supply service delivery will require continued enthusiasm in diligent implementation and thoughtful evaluation. This cannot be over-emphasized in relation to rural inhabitants of low-income countries (LICs), as they represent the largest percentage of those still reliant on unimproved drinking water sources. In that lies the motivation and value of this thesis research- improving water supply service delivery in LICs.

Manually operated suction pumps, being relatively robust, low cost, and feasible to manufacture locally, are an important technology in providing access to improved drinking water sources in LICs, especially in the context of Self-supply. It seems widely accepted that the water-lifting limit of suction pumps as reported in practice is approximately seven meters. However, some observations by our research group of manually operated suction pumps lifting water upwards of nine meters brought this “general rule of thumb” limit into question. Therefore, a focused investigation on the capabilities of a manually operated suction pump (a Pitcher Pump) was conducted in an attempt to address these discrepancies, and in so doing, contribute to the understanding of this technology with the intent of providing results with practical relevance to its potential; that is, provide evidence that can inform the use of these pumps for water supply.

In this research, a simple model based on commonly used engineering approaches employing empirical equations to describe head loss in a pump system was used to estimate the suction lift limit under presumed system parameters. Fundamentally based on the energy equation applied to incompressible flow in pipes, the empirically derived Darcy-Weisbach equation and Hydraulic Institute Standards acceleration head equation were used to estimate frictional and acceleration head losses. Considering the theoretical maximum suction lift is limited to the height of a column of water that would be supported by atmospheric pressure, reduced only by the vapor pressure of water, subtracting from this the model was used to predict the suction lift limit, also referred to herein as the practical theoretical limit, assuming a low (4 L/min) and high (11 L/min) flow rate for three systems: 1) one using 1.25-inch internal diameter GI pipes, 2) one using 1.25-inch internal diameter PVC pipes, and 3) one using 2-inch internal diameter PVC pipes. In all considered cases, with an elevation equal to sea level, the suction lift limit was estimated to be over nine meters. At a minimum, the suction lift limit was estimated to be approximately 9.4 meters for systems using 1.25-inch internal diameter pipe and 9.8 meters for systems using 2-inch internal diameter pipe, with essentially no discernable effects noticed between pipe material or pipe age. Additionally, laboratory (field) trials using a Simmons Manufacturing Picher Pump and each of the aforementioned pipe specifications were conducted at the University of South Florida (Tampa, FL, USA) to determine the practical pumping limit for these systems. Results from the pumping trials indicated that the practical pumping limit- the greatest height at which a reasonable pumping rate could be consistently sustained with only modest effort, as perceived by the person pumping- for a Pitcher Pump is around nine meters (9 meters when using 1.25-inch internal diameter GI or PVC pipe and 9.4 meters when using 2-inch internal diameter PVC pipe). Therefore, results from this research present two pieces of evidence which suggest that the practical water-lifting limit of manually operated suction pumps is somewhere around nine meters (at sea level), implying that reconsideration of the seven-meter suction lift limit commonly reported in the field might be warranted.

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Engineering Commons