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February 20th, 2009 was a really important day for Managua; the Lake Xolotln Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) was finally inaugurated. Xolotln had been receiving untreated sewage water for more than 82 years! Clearly, this is represents tremendously important step towards the recovery and proper management of Nicaragua s water resources. I had the opportunity to actually go to the plant and know the details of the work that s being done there. During my visit I talked to Javier Nuez, the Operations Manager of the plant. He s Nicaraguan and studied at UNI (Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria) in Managua where he got in 2000 his degree in Chemical Engineering. He then went to Cologne, Germany and completed a Masters degree in Sewage Water Management in 2003. For the next 3 years he worked for SNF Floerger (a company specialized in the production of water-soluble polymers) in different Central American countries. Javier personally gave me a tour around the plant. I genuinely appreciate his attention and service because when compared to previous experiences I had while visiting other environmentally responsible projects (I don t want to mention any specific names) I was definitely not so well received. The first point I wanted to know about was the history of the plant. Javier explained to me that the whole project was financed by a $33 million loan from the German bank KFW Entwicklungsbank that was made to ENACAL (Empresa Nicaraguense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados) the legal owner of the plant. The British Company Biwater International 1 was in charge of the construction phase, which lasted 3 and half years, and is currently in charge of management for a 5 years period. This was stipulated in contract with ENACAL and it might be prolonged if necessary. At this time there are 40 employees working in the plant. The second important topic in our conversation was the technical aspects of the plant. Javier told me they can currently treat from 60% to 70%2of all Managua sewage water (predominantly water contaminated with feces or urine that comes from domestic use). It s only that percentage of the city that is connected to the treatment plant. The plant works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can receive and treat up to 3,441 letters per second or 3.44 metric tons per second. This gives a capacity of 182,000,000 letters per day!

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A world leader in the water industry with a highly successful track record of working in over thirty countries. According to data given by ENACAL to Javier Nuez

Once we finished talking about these general aspects of the plant, it was time for our little tour. Although I did know that there would be an unpleasant odor (it s only natural in a treatment plant like this), I honestly didn t think that it would be necessary to bring anything in order to cover up my nose. I was right, and in fact just after a couple of minutes I was pretty much used to the smell. As we went along with the tour Javier commented on all the different processes of the plant and how it all works. First, the sewage water coming from Managua, either by gravity or pumped goes to pretreatment. Here the water is filtered by mechanically taking out large pieces of waste. This is done by using four 6mm vertical bar screens. Anything larger than 6mm goes to a special container. Then the water goes to three canals 24 meters long where grit, floating oil and grease from the surface are removed and put into the special container. The waste inside the special container is then taken to La Chureca . Second, the water is taken to the Primary Settlement tanks. There are nine tanks which are 22 meters long and 7 meter wide. Each of the tanks has lamella plates designed to catalyze the sedimentation process. In this stage, primary sludge is formed. This sludge is pumped to special tanks, called sludge containers. Meanwhile the water, which is a little bit cleaner, goes to another filtering process. Third, the water goes to the trickling filters. There are six filters which are 5.1 meters high and 35 meters in diameter. There is also one rotating arm distributor in each filter. Basically, here the water undergoes and oxygenation process and a biological treatment where most harmful microorganisms are killed. Fourth, the water goes to Secondary Settlement tanks that have lamella plates. The previously killed microorganisms are accumulated as part of the sediment and now the water is considered to be clean, and it is finally ready to go to the lake. However the process is not over yet. There is a lot of sludge that still needs to be taken care of. All of the sludge goes to the specially designed sludge thickener tanks, which are 20meters in diameter, with two rotation arms that move the sludge constantly to make it denser. And after this stage, the thickened sludge is transferred to four hermetically sealed anaerobic digesters. Inside of them, the sludge is basically decomposed by bacteria without the presence of air. This process last 21.5 days and during this time methane is produced. To my surprise, the methane is not used but rather it is just burned. It occurred to me that if this was a privately own company, instead of being part of a governmental institution (ENACAL), then probably this methane would be used (instead of being used)

to produce energy. Of course, for a private company the name of the game is profit, so they would definitely use this methane as a way to increase their profits. However Javier mentioned that maybe in the long-term future an energy generator that runs on methane could be built, but of course that would mean new investments, loans, and so on. Nonetheless, and continuing with the process of the plant, once the sludge is fully digested, it is transferred to a sludge process machine where it is put under great amounts of pressure and it is mixed with a polymer that helps to the get it pretty much like a sponge. Therefore, the sludge s water percentage goes down to 25%. And finally the dried sludge goes to a even another drying facility which is actually the largest solar drying plant in the world. Once this phase is done, the sludge is ready to be used as fertilizer in agriculture. By then, Javier had already explained on the whole all that I was looking forward to learning about the plant. So after leaving the plant I decided that I needed to do something about my own contribution to the sewage water that goes to the lake. Professor Kevyn Wightman shared with me an excellent webpage which is coincidently specialized just on that. So after reading about other peoples experiences with composting and dry toilets, rainwater harvesting and greywater reuse, I knew I had to do something about it. Grey water reuse refers to using the water that s left from your washing machine, showers, or sinks, to irrigate the plants on your backyard, for example. 3 Composting and dry toilets use natural processes to turn human excreta into a valuable soil amendment. They typically use no water or very little water in commercial scale applications. 4 And rainwater harvesting can reduce our need--and demand--for water transport systems that threaten the health of the water cycle and our local environments. On any house lot, there are three potential sources for harvesting the rain: Direct rainfall, street harvesting, and roof harvesting. 5 Obviously these are really good strategies and suggestions, and they actually work pretty well. Based on the dozens of pictures and descriptions of people who have actually used these methods, I assume they really are effective for anyone interested in being more environmentally responsible. So I talked to the members of my family, because currently I m living in my parent s hose. And so I presented

Greywater Action. http://www.greywateraction.org/ Friday, June 11th 2010 Ibid #3 5 Ibid #3


these ideas to them and ask their opinion and if they believed that these measures could be applied in our home. Nevertheless they were somewhat reluctant to the idea of using dry or composting toilets, because they believe that this is more something you would expect to see in a rural area, like in a farm, where there s really no access to the sewer network. And they basically shared the same opinion for the greywater usage. Their argument was that it wasn t as hygienic as having a regular toilet or as using regular water, and for them the hygiene topic is really of paramount importance. So I understand where they are coming from. Fortunately, they did agree on implementing the rainwater harvesting technique. I managed to persuade them that this would be a very cost-effective way to reduce our domestic water use. So starting the first week of June, we will analyze more in depth the different options we have to make this happens. I am thrilled to see their positive reaction and also even more excited to perhaps even help my neighbors or friends to do the same once the see what s been done in my own house. Overall I am not only grateful for this whole experiencing of visiting this plant and learning about ways to be more responsible and friendly to the environment but also I am feeling more and more empowered to keep doing this like this in the future and of course making you that as many people as people are part of it so that little by little, step by step, real changes will be made.

Websites used in the elaboration of this blog *

o Rainwater harvesting . Friday, June 11 2010 http://www.greywateraction.org/content/about-rainwater-harvesting o Greywater recycling. Friday, June 11 2010 http://www.greywateraction.org/greywater-recycling o Cleaning Up World s Biggest Toilet . Friday, June 11 2010 http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46120 o Colombia Waste Water Treatment Plant. Friday, June 11 2010 http://www.gocolumbiamo.com/PublicWorks/Sewer/wwtppg_4.php o Analysis of a sewage treatment plant. Friday, June 11 2010 http://users.rowan.edu/~wagnerf/efgb/sewerplantTrip.pdf o Small Scale Wastewater Treatment Plants. Friday, June 11 2010 http://www.sopac.org/data/virlib/LR/LR0109.pdf o Managua Wastewater Treatment Plant Nicaragua. Friday, June 11 2010 http://www.biwater.com/casestudies/detail.aspx?id=134

* Almost most of this blog was elaborated with the generous information given by the managers of the Waste Water Treatment Plant.