The charity Water Missions International is putting the finishing touches on its new headquarters in North Charleston, and that includes hooking up one of South Carolina’s largest solar arrays.

By the numbers


Miles many impoverished people walk to get water.

10 cents

Approximate cost of 20 liters of clean water from a Water Missions installation.

$1 million

Size of a single donation Water Missions received in December

40,000 sq. feet

Size of Water Missions new headquarters

2 million

Number of people served by Water Missions since 2001

The Christian nonprofit works to establish clean water and sanitation systems in impoverished areas overseas. The solar array on the former Navy base is related to the connection between water and power.

German solar equipment manufacturer SolarWorld, whose U.S. operations are based in Oregon, was impressed with the way Water Missions used solar panels to power water pumps in Haiti, and that led to a larger relationship.

“We decided that what they were doing is the perfect partnership,” said Ben Santarris, spokesman for SolarWorld US. “With four to six panels they can power submersible pumps that provide water for 5,000 people.”

Now, Water Missions will also have a 40,000-square-foot facility powered primarily by the sun.

“This project basically means that they don’t have utility bills, and they can put that money into aid,” said Santarris, who on Tuesday was watching MTV Solar of West Virginia perform the installation of the panels, also at no cost to Water Missions.

Nearby, volunteers from Vanderbilt University were painting parts of Water Missions’ new building, which is several times the size of its old location in West Ashley. Inside what was the Navy’s Building 1605, Water Missions has offices for its staff of 35 and a manufacturing area.

“The biggest benefit is that it give s us plenty of production space, with our offices under the same roof,” said Taylor Hall, a spokesman for the group.

The nonprofit group is known for its Living Water treatment equipment, a compact, 275-gallon water-treatment system. A dozen can fit in a shipping container, and one can serve a community of several thousand people, according to the group.

Water Missions currently has staff in nine countries and installs roughly 200 water-treatment systems a year, most of which involve the Living Water systems. The group sets up committees in the communities to oversee the system and collect money for supplies, repairs and the cost of an operator.

“The idea is that the community saves enough money that we only need to make a one-time investment,” said Andrew Armstrong, a Water Missions engineer who just returned from three weeks working with staff in Honduras.

“We’re not having a transformational impact in a community if we have to keep providing them with things,” he said. “We work in very poor places, and we make sure they can afford the water.”

A community of 1,000 to 4,000 residents might need to come up with $1,000 a month, Armstrong said. That pays for a local employee who maintains the water system daily, chemicals and testing materials to make sure the water is properly treated, upkeep, and money set aside for repairs.

“We had a community where a pump had broken, and they had saved enough to buy a new one,” he said. “That was a big victory.”

Water Missions has been operating since 2001 and said it has provided clean water to more than 2 million people in 49 countries.

Working in places like Haiti and Kenya can be dangerous, and staffers overseas have been robbed and carjacked, Armstrong said. So far, Water Missions has not been victimized by terrorist groups, such as al-Shabaab, that operate in some countries where the nonprofit works.

The organization is planning a ribbon-cutting for its new headquarters this month, just in time for the annual Walk for Water fundraiser, in which participants walk about 3.5 miles carrying buckets filled with water to symbolize what women and children go through to collect water in developing countries.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.