San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Water Treatment Plant to Save Lake

MANAGUA – German and Nicaraguan authorities last week inaugurated a $83 million water-treatment plant that will treat sewage waters flowing into LakeXolotlán, also known as LakeManagua.

The project, which was dreamt up 13 years ago, includes a state-of-the-art Germanfunded treatment plant that is the first of its kind in Central America.

Authorities hope that within two years the plant will help rid the lake of the putrid stench that lingers about its shores, but no one has ventured to guess as to when the lake – into which Managua residents have been dumping their raw sewage for eight decades – might be safe for swimming or drinking.

Until last week, 17 sewage pipelines drained directly into the lake, dumping 100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage a day. In addition, the lake receives contamination from polluted streams that flow into the lake as well as seepage from Managua’s biggest trash dump, located near its shore.

The water-treatment plant is a step in the right direction toward cleaning one of the region’s most polluted bodies of water, authorities say. But cooperation will be needed, experts say.

“It’s important that the population of Nicaragua contributes to this great project now,” said Marvin Chamorro, project coordinator of the German Development Bank in Nicaragua.

German Ambassador Betina Kern said the plant, most of which was paid for by Germany, is a “star project” for the German aid agency. The project dates back to a 1996 accord signed by then-Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro (1990-1996) and German President Roman Herzog (1994-1999).

The Inter-American Development Bank and the Nordic Fund also contributed millions to the project, as did the Nicaraguan government.

The project included the construction of an extensive network of piping that will provide services for 60 industrial plants around the lake, as well as to some 1 million Managua residents.

Sewage pumped into the plant will undergo an extensive filtering process through which wastes will be converted into fertilizer. Gases produced in the filtering process will be captured and turned into biofuel that will feed the project’s energy consumption needs. The plant has capacity to treat 182,000 cubic meters of sewage a day.

British company Biwater International will operate the plant with support from Nicaraguan technicians.

Authorities hope the plant will help to restore some of the 1,050-square-kilometer lake’s natural beauty, which was once the inspiration of poets and painters. The Sandinista government last year inaugurated the Salvador Allende tourism port on the shores of the lake and began offering ferry tours across the lake.

“We are already beginning to treat the water so that the lake is fit for tourism activities that don’t involve contact” directly with the water, said German embassy technician Markus Popke.

But neither Popke nor Chamorro would say if or when the lake’s water might be suitable for swimming or drinking.

ENACAL President Ruth Selma said the plant will be the “determining factor in salvaging the lake.”

But she said in order for the plant to achieve its goal of cleaning the lake, its inauguration must be accompanied by a cultural change whereby Nicaraguans decide to stop contaminating the lake and its ravines with trash.

“If Managuas can stop being dirty and stop throwing trash everywhere, we’re going to contribute to the salvation of the lake,” Selma told state media. She said to achieve that goal, Nicaraguans should educate each other about the effects of pollution . President Daniel Ortega echoed that message during at the inauguration on Feb. 20.

“The problem of contamination that affects families is a problem that we have to take up culturally with force and vigor,” Ortega said.


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