San José Sewer Upgrade Planned

February 4, 2005

SAN José’s dilapidated and insufficient sewage system,which casts untreated waste into the area’s rivers andexcludes 55% of the region’s population, may finallyreceive a long-overdue facelift in the coming years if thingsgo according to new government plans.Construction on the $437 million project to overhaulthe system, which has been delayed by funding problemssince it was first proposed in the mid-1990s, is not scheduledto begin until 2009.However, the financing and consulting phase of theproject is now officially under way, according to a presentationat a recent presidential Cabinet meeting.THE massive undertaking includes plans to renovateand extend the sewer system with 93 kilometers of newpipes and a 1.8-kilometer tunnel between the northern andsouthern areas of the San José region. The country’s firstsewage treatment plant will also be constructed, accordingto the National Water and Sewer Institute (AyA), which isin charge of the project.Now, run-down sewer pipes and the absence of sewagetreatment in the San José area create widespread contamination.Only 45% of the metropolitan population is servedby the current system, according to institute data. Humanwaste is usually routed directly into nearby rivers.Lack of coverage and damaged collector pipes areamong the most serious problems facing the system, water and sewer manager Heibel Rodríguez saidat the Cabinet meeting.PRESIDENT Abel Pacheco underscoredthe urgency of the sewage problemwhile displaying his characteristic humor –albeit with language a bit more graphicthan usual.Without the new project, “we will soonbe drinking water contaminated with crap, tobe exact and not use euphemisms,” Pachecosaid following the AyA presentation.“It’s not very elegant,” he added, “butit’s my duty, and it’s what we’ve neglected.”The President pointed out that becausecrocodiles tend to thrive in contaminatedwaters, the sewage in the Tárcoles River,which connects the Central Valley and thecentral Pacific coast and collects all of thewastewater from San José, creates astrange tourist draw.“I have seen many Gringo touristsarriving, happy to see the crocodiles in theTárcoles, the most contaminated river.There they are, happy, taking pictures:‘Oh! Look at the crocodiles!’ Until theyask what (the crocodiles) eat. When theyget an answer, they leave,” he said.THE project’s first phase is expected tobe completed by 2015, cost $250 million,and provide coverage to approximately 1million people, about 65% of the greatermetropolitan area’s population, up from thecurrent 45% rate, according to instituteplans. The tunnel and treatment plant will beconstructed during the first phase; 45 kilometersof pipes will be repaired and 39 kilometersof new pipes built.A second phase, to be completed in2025, will provide coverage to 1.6 millionpeople – 85% of the metropolitan area’spopulation, and cost $187 million.A $150 million loan on favorable termsfrom the Japanese Bank of InternationalCooperation is expected to partially financethe first stage. The government of CostaRica will take on $100 million of this debt,with the Water and Sewer Institute taking onthe remaining $50 million.The institute plans to provide the additional$100 million necessary for the firststage, partly by seeking investments andloans and partly by raising tariffs on theservices it provides.THE institute commissioned a surveyof 1,500 residents in 2004 to explore theirwillingness to pay higher tariffs to helpfinance the project.While only 33.7% of those surveyedsaid they had noticed the presence of rawsewage in the greater metropolitan area,72% said they had noticed contaminatedstreams or rivers, and 98.4% agreed theproject is “necessary for the city.”The institute also collected data on theamount families spend on costs that wouldpresumably be eliminated once constructionon the new system is successfullycompleted.According to the survey, families nowspend an estimated $12.17 per family permonth, according to the survey results, oncleaning or repairing septic tanks, and$11.60 per family per year to deal withhealth concerns exacerbated by contaminatedwaters.JOSÉ Manuel Hermidia, the UnitedNations Development Program’s directorfor Latin America, said at the meeting thatclean water is one of Costa Rica’s biggestchallenges in meeting the U.N. MillenniumGoals by 2015, the year set for thegoals’ achievement. Hermidia attended theCabinet meeting to present a report onCosta Rica’s progress toward the U.N.Millennium Goals. The goals set measurabletargets for poverty reduction, infantmortality rates, gender equality, educationand conservation.Hermidia called the outlook for CostaRica “excellent” when compared withthat of most other Latin American countries,particularly in the areas of education,gender equity and environmentalprotections.“Costa Rica is an emblematic countryfor conservation,” Hermidia said, addingthat this status makes it all the more importantfor the country to lead the way in effortsto provide its citizens with potable water.Costa Rica’s national MillenniumGoals call for 98.7% of residents to havepotable water by 2015. (That figure was79.5% in 2003, according to last year’sState of the Nation report.)The goals also call for the proportion ofthe population without access to adequatesewage treatment to be reduced to 50%.

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