Central States WEA Program Seeks To Bring Sanitation to Underdeveloped Regions

April 28, 2016

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The Central States Water Environment Association (CSWEA) created the Global Water Stewardship (GWS) program to advance providing sanitation around the world. Photo courtesy of the Global Water Stewardship.

The Central States Water Environment Association (CSWEA) created the Global Water Stewardship (GWS) program to advance providing sanitation around the world. Photo courtesy of the Global Water Stewardship.

The Central States Water Environment Association (CSWEA) has created a program to help protect public health in underdeveloped regions of the world. The program, Global Water Stewardship (GWS), seeks to advance the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goal of providing sanitation for the 2.5 billion people worldwide who lack it.

CSWEA’s membership called for the creation of GWS to help direct resources specifically toward sanitation projects. While the UN goal for drinking water already has been met, the UN does not expect the goal for sanitation to be met in the foreseeable future, according to the Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: 2012 Update by UNICEF (New York) and the World Health Organization (Geneva).

“There are simply not enough resources or professionals working on this issue,” wrote Mohammed M. Haque, CSWEA executive director, in a letter to the Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.).

Finding the solutions

GWS seeks to provide a comprehensive approach to water sanitation by identifying needs, developing solutions, and finding funding sources. The organization covers design, permitting, implementation, and operational training. The vision is focused on developing sustainable centralized wastewater treatment systems rather than single-dwelling solutions.

This approach aligns with the talents of a WEF Member Association (MA) and provides members with an opportunity as water quality professionals to help improve the global water environment.

The first project: Providing wastewater services to Piedras Blancas

The first GWS project focused on Piedras Blancas, Costa Rica, and began in 2013. This small village of palm plantation workers is located just north of the Piedras Blancas National Park in the Osa Peninsula approximately 180 km from San Jose. This rainforest area is one of the most biodiverse on the planet, according to CSWEA.

GWS designed a wastewater collection and treatment system for Piedras Blancas, Costa Rica, through the CSWEA student design competition. Now, GWS is partnering with local firms to create final design documents for permitting and construction. Local entities will fund the construction. Photo courtesy of the Global Water Stewardship.

GWS designed a wastewater collection and treatment system for Piedras Blancas, Costa Rica, through the CSWEA student design competition. Now, GWS is partnering with local firms to create final design documents for permitting and construction. Local entities will fund the construction. Photo courtesy of the Global Water Stewardship.

The area also has the potential to become a tourist destination that could grow economically, but lacks the resources to provide adequate sanitation facilities. The village of 150 tightly packed small homes relies on septic tanks. However, the graywater from the tanks ends up on the street and ultimately flows into the adjacent river.

To date, GWS has visited the area three times to investigate the issue and coordinate with local leaders, government officials, and consultants. GWS discovered that funding exists for the improvements. The stumbling blocks, however, are planning, design, and permitting resulting from a lack of expertise in the region.

To fill this need, GWS and CSWEA enlisted the help of students to develop a solution. Piedras Blancas’ situation became a case for CSWEA’s student design competition. This accessed the skills of students from the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and the University of Illinois (Urbana), as well as other WEF student chapters.

GWS is partnering with a local engineering firm to transform the student teams’ conceptual design into final design documents for permitting and construction. Local entities will fund the construction. The documentation also includes a financial model to determine the cost of operations and the effects on local residents.

GWS chose this project based on several criteria; chief among them was that a local water utility already serves the region. GWS anticipates that the wastewater system would be turned over to this entity to provide continued operations. A financial model has been completed to determine the cost of operations and the effects on residents.

The second project: Constructing wastewater improvements in Bahia Ballena

The second project is in Bahia Ballena, a small village located at the entrance of the Marino Ballena National Park in Costa Rica. The area is a favorite for beachgoers and has whale watching and surfing opportunities.

For its second project, GWS focused on Bahia Bellena, a village of several tightly packed commercial establishments and 40 to 50 homes. The village sits at the entrance of the Marino Ballena National Park in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of the Global Water Stewardship.

For its second project, GWS focused on Bahia Bellena, a village of several tightly packed commercial establishments and 40 to 50 homes. The village sits at the entrance of the Marino Ballena National Park in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of the Global Water Stewardship.

The village of several tightly packed commercial establishments and 40 to 50 homes does not have a wastewater system. In addition, there is new construction occurring in this area without the benefit of a wastewater treatment system. As a result, all graywater and wastewater flows into the adjacent estuary, polluting the beaches and waters.

CSWEA also has converted this challenge into a problem statement for the 2016 Student Design Competition. CSWEA members mentor the students to develop innovative solutions for the project, and the students present their designs in a competitive environment.

Once a solution is selected, GWS will fund the design and permitting of the project and local funds will be used to construct the improvements.

The next project: Grow

GWS plans to continue addressing sanitation issues head-on through projects. However, with additional support and participation more could be accomplished.

To protect the pristine waters in the region — such as the “whale’s tail” — near Bahia Bellena, GWS will design a wastewater treatment system for the area. Photo courtesy of Andres Madrigal.

To protect the pristine waters in the region — such as the “whale’s tail” — near Bahia Bellena, GWS will design a wastewater treatment system for the area. Photo courtesy of Andres Madrigal.

The cost of each project for development, design, permitting, and training is estimated to be $50,000 to $80,000. Construction and operational costs are funded locally. By gaining critical mass through WEF MAs, and having the potential backing of a stronger funding partner, we could expand this program to make an impact globally, Haque said.

“Our goal is for more WEF Member Associations to join the Global Water Stewardship and provide resources as well as take on other projects based on this sustainable model,” Haque said.

Individuals and MAs can learn more about GWS and contact Haque through www.globalwaterstewardship.org.

— Steve Spicer, WEF Highlights

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