San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Funds Committed For Sewer System

Financial support for a project to renovate and expand San José s run-down, insufficient sewer system has finally arrived after at least a decade of delay though the finish date of the ambitious project has been pushed back from 2025 to 2027.

The government of Japan confirmed earlier this month that its International Cooperation Bank (JICB) will loan Costa Rica $127.2 million for the project, and Rafael Villalta, head of the National Water and Sewer Institute (AyA), announced this week that the government of Costa Rica will take on $100 million of that debt. The renovation will increase sewer-system coverage in the greater metropolitan area from 45% of the area s population to 85% (1.6 million).

The AyA will finance the rest of the $437 million project with its budget, partly by seeking investments and loans and partly by charging consumers increased fees.

We are going to regain the public health of San José, Villalta said at the press conference following President Abel Pacheco s weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday. He added that damaged pipes and the country s lack of a sewage-treatment plant is leading to widespread contamination, since human waste is usually routed directly into rivers. The AyA presentation included a photograph of children playing in sewage-tainted waters.

Phase One of the project will take place from 2006-2016 and focus on San José, increasing the percentage of the population covered by the system to 65% (approximately 1 million); Phase Two, starting in 2017, will focus on the cantons of Escazú (west of San José), Aserrí (south), Tres Ríos and Coronado (east of the capital).

By 2027, the area is expected to have 45 kilometers of repaired pipes, 93 km of new pipes, a 1.8-km tunnel between the northern and southern areas of the region and a sewage-treatment plant the country s first.

The project was first proposed in the mid-1990s but delayed because of a lack of funds. Last year, AyA announced that the expected Japanese Bank loan and central government support would pay for the much-needed work, which was then scheduled to be completed by 2025.

At the time, Pacheco said that without the project we will soon be drinking water contaminated with crap, to be exact and not use euphemisms (TT, Feb. 4, 2005).

The U.N. Millennium Goals for Costa Rica call for the proportion of the population without access to adequate sewage treatment to be reduced to 50% by 2015. The area encompassed by the new project holds approximately 60% of Costa Rica s total population and 70% of the country s business activity, Villalta said.

He added that exposure to untreated sewage is particularly high in the area because some people illegally occupy government land, and build homes or temporary shelters on or near damaged pipes.

He said he expects widespread public support for the project, even if it means higher water rates for consumers. The Sewer Institute commissioned a CID-Gallup study during the administration of ex-President Miguel Angel Rodríguez (1998-2002) in which eight in 10 Costa Ricans said they would support a sewer renovation.

A 2004 study showed 72% of San José residents said they had noticed streams or rivers contaminated by sewage and 98.4% said the project is necessary for the city. The study also showed families spend $12.17 per month cleaning or repairing septic tanks and $11.60 per year on health concerns made worse by polluted water.

The future of the project will soon be in the hands of the newly elected legislators and President-elect Oscar Arias, set to take office in May. The AyA will submit the project-financing proposal to the Legislative Assembly in April for approval, Villalta said.


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