Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica

Bahia Ballena is located at the entrance of the Marina Ballena National Park, approximately 70 miles from San Jose on the Pacific Coast. The direct translation of Bahia Ballena is suitably “Whale Bay.” It is a hot spot for tourists due to its unique whale tail-shaped marine park that extends out into the ocean and can be seen during low tide. The community is highly reliant on tourism, consisting of restaurants, homes, and tourist businesses that utilize the ocean for whale watching, boat tours, surfing, and other marine activities. The small village of tightly packed commercial establishments and about 50 homes does not have a wastewater system, resulting in greywater and sewage flowing into the adjacent estuary and eventually to the Pacific Ocean. There is no curb and gutter, yet a good portion of the town has paved roads, with stormwater flowing through open ditches. Not only is a centralized sanitary treatment system necessary for the existing community, it is also imperative as there is considerable new construction planned for coming years.

Some homes and businesses have individual septic tanks for greywater and sanitary, while some only have a sanitary septic tank. All of the septic tanks in the community were poured in place with no standard sizing, location, or plumbing being used. Plastic septic tanks are prevalent due to being much cheaper, however they break more frequently due to the change in pressure from pumping. The homeowners are responsible and  legally obligated to pump out their septic tanks, but there is no control to ensure that they do.  This costs about $75 per home, with businesses paying about $200 each time.  

Bahia Ballena was the subject of the 2016 Student Design Competition. While designs were completed and submitted to the local engineering consultant RQL for review, land acquisition for the proposed plant became and immediate obstacle. The location of the design was found to be a protected zone due to the nearby marine park. The land is owned by a local developer, Franklin, who was planning on donating the land for the treatment facility but was unaware that it could not be used for any type of construction. Franklin, with the help of Amy Work of Geoporter and Travis Bays of Bohdi Surf (GWS local contacts) are hoping to work with MINAE (equivalent to the States DNR) to get the protection zone lifted based on the environmental benefit that would come from the building of the wastewater treatment plant. GWS continues to work with local contacts to determine potential sites for the facility.

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