570,000 liters of sewage used to flow straight into the river - every day. Francisca Villca Bonifacio works at the Cliza water treatment plant which ensures that the wastewater is treated and can be used by local farmers to irrigate their fields.
"Now the village is clean, every house has its own sewage system and people can take care of their hygiene at home," says Francisca Villca Bonifacio who lives in Cliza, a small town in the central parts of Bolivia.
For the past year she has been working at a small water plant located on the outskirts of Cliza, which treats the town's wastewater. Just a few years ago, 570,000 liters of sewage went straight into the nearby river every day. During the dry season, the water was almost black.
Today the wastewater runs through a pipe underneath the river. In 2018, 75 percent of the wastewater in Cliza was treated and the goal is to become the first municipality in Bolivia to treat 100 percent by 2020.
Francisca works to maintain the plant
Francisca Villca Bonifacio is responsible for maintenance at the treatment plant. She cleans the system and ensures that everything is in working order. She shows the path of the water through different screens and anaerobic chambers, which removes or breaks down solids, sand, fats and organic matter. The whole process takes 72 hours.
"We often receive visitors from different municipalities in Bolivia and I have heard the engineers explain the process several times. When there are universities visiting I can explain how it works," says Francisca, who didn't get the chance to go to school when she grew up.
The community is cleaner and the fields greener
The village becoming cleaner is not the only improvement she has seen in the area. She points to the neighboring fields.
"When I arrived here for the first time, the surrounding areas were not as green as today. Now I grow my own corn in the area."
The treated water and the sludge are recycled by the local farmers. One of them is Severino Vásquez, who has his fields right next to the water plant.
"This water makes it possible for me to sow earlier in the season and it has given us good results. A better harvest means more money, which is enough to support our families," he says.
The farmers used to be completely dependent on rain for their crops. But in recent years the climate has changed and there is rainfall fewer months of the year. And when it rains it often pours down, causing floods.
"There used to be enough rainwater and the corn yielded very well. Today, little by little, the rainfall has become scarcer", says Severino.
He was the first farmer in the area that started irrigating his crops and every year there were people following in his footsteps. Now some twenty farmers recycle the water from the treatment plant in their fields.
The treatment plant was built by Sida partner Agua Tuya, which specializes in the construction and management of water and sewage services. Cliza is one of the 15 municipalities in which Agua Tuya works and several similar water plants have been built in the region, some with Swedish funding.
Cost efficient water treatment plant
The treatment plant in Cliza has been built using Swedish technology that with simple means and limited resources treats the water enough for it to be used for agriculture. A process which is considerably cheaper than producing drinking water.
"Small, decentralized treatment plants have many advantages. You use smaller pipes, smaller pumps and they require less energy. The water can be reused locally instead of far away, says Gustavo Heredia, president of Agua Tuya.
The cost of the treatment plant is divided between the local municipality and Sida. When the agreement with Agua Tuya expires, there is a long-term plan for how the municipality will finance the treatment plants through fees.
"Even if the political leadership is replaced, this work will continue. The people have seen the benefits and we can't turn a blind eye to such a fundamental need", says the mayor Walker Illanes.
There was a six-month consultation with the residents of Cliza before the construction of the plant. Many doubted the project at the beginning. They had seen previously failed attempts with open pools that were not maintained but smelled bad and attracted flies. After participating in information meetings, workshops and study visits to other treatment plants, the majority changed their opinion.
This is the first time this technology has been used in Bolivia and the plan is to copy the design in other parts of the country.
Lack of water and treatment plants is a huge problem in Bolivia, and the problem is growing due to climate change. About 50 percent of Bolivians have some kind of sewage system, but only 11 percent of the wastewater is treated. It creates environmental problems and spreads disease.
Designing, building and putting water treatment plants in Cliza and Tolata into opperation.The project has also designed and provided technical support to two additional water treatment plants in the region.
Agua Tuya, together with Sida, is working to replicate these models through the Bolivian Ministry of Environment and Water, by developing standards and guidelines that will allow construction in other regions.
SEK 10.2 million during the period 2012-2016.
SEK 43 million during the period 2018-2020, including the construction and renovation of sewage treatment plants in Santa Cruz, Tarija and Montero.
Example of results
- Treating more than 900,000 liters of sewage per day from Cliza and Tolata, which previously went straight into the river.
- Farmers in Cliza and Punata have organised themselves to reuse the water for irrigation.
- Sanitation solutions in the homes of Cliza and Tolata.
- Sustainable management models for water treatment plants.