Water is vital.

Not only do we need fluid to survive, it also sustains the plants in our ecosystems, which generate crucial supplies of oxygen and food. Our species can’t live without H2O.

Yet much of the developing world doesn’t have access to clean drinking water.

The pool industry is helping to change that.

Project41 takes swimming pool pumps and pairs them with bicycles to create human-powered irrigation systems. The Redding, Calif.-based nonprofit supplies its product to people in developing countries, mainly in Uganda. The organization and concept was dreamed up by Andy Pierce, a plumbing and solar contractor who was inspired by a hand pump attached to a rain-capture system he saw while volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti. Pierce had experience installing solar pool systems and started experimenting with adapting a one-horsepower pump to be manually powered.

His first pump ended up going to Uganda instead of Haiti, and was shown to family farmers, who were excited by the ability to pump about 50 gallons per minute to irrigate their farms.

“There’s a vast number of people on this planet that still rely on seasonal rainfall for their survival,” Pierce says. “We started looking into what it means to be a small-scale farmer in the developing world and what options they have. There’s just really nothing out there.”

That prompted him to find a way to provide more of these pumps to the farmers who need them.

Partnering with Independent Pool & Spa Service Association chapters and through a grant of 480 pumps from Pentair Aquatic Systems, Pierce has brought his concept to life for about 200 families to date. Project41 is continuing to bring more irrigation to the world’s small farmers with pumps the nonprofit still has from Pentair and the used pumps service technicians can drop off at nine locations in Northern California.

“Pentair’s just been a wonderful organization,” Pierce says. “Very generous, wonderful people.”

An international trip also sparked an idea for change in Harold Evans.

The owner of Orenda Technologies, a water treatment producer, was on a business trip in India to discuss using his company’s solutions to treat drinking water when he brainstormed the idea of getting the pool industry involved in charitable giving for clean water.

“I was looking at all the people and seeing how difficult it is to navigate what you’re drinking,” he remembers. “How you can’t drink the tap water; you have to be careful when you take a shower not to rinse your mouth. Just how fragile the water system is. And then realizing that there were people in even less sophisticated environments, rural villages, that virtually had no opportunity to have any water that was safe.”

Instead of offering rebates to its customers, Orenda opted to give a donation of up to 3 percent of sales in an area to a charity benefiting clean water as a way to give back. When presenting the idea to IPSSA chapters, Evans found a champion of the cause with service tech Annie Abbate, owner of Chem-Tech Pool Cleaning in Greater Phoenix. Abbate had sponsored a child through World Vision, which drills new wells and was one of the charities Evans had tapped for the donations.

Donations were specifically earmarked to go to the village of Abbate’s sponsored child, and the well there will be completed within the next year.

The effort continues: Evans asks for donations to be made at Orenda seminars and spreads the word. But, the contributions now enter the general well fund at World Vision, which Evans notes is a challenge.

“Their size has made tailoring fundraising more difficult,” Evans says. “I think for the pool industry, we’re a very personal business, and the fact that we did this for one girl and one woman in IPSSA and saw it through had a lot of value to people.”

For the well in Senegal, World Vision received donations not only from IPSSA chapters themselves, but also from service techs and industry professionals who donated as individuals.

“I definitely felt that the pool industry wants to give in accountable ways, and I think that’s to their credit,” Evans says. “And when it’s arbitrary in a general fund, I think it’s much more difficult to do. If they know it’s going to Senegal, the way we did the first one, I think it’s awesome.”