Contraloría report cites big delays in valley sewer project

he water and sewer company is far behind on its plans to build a treatment plant and extend the lines in the Central Valley.

That is the assessment of the Contraloría General de la República, the budget watchdog. The report on the work being done by the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados noted that very little money has been spent even though the Japanese government loaned Costa Rica $130 million for the job.

Part of the problem, according to the Contraloría is that both the Ministerio de Hacienda and Banco Central de Costa Rica have not taken steps to free up matching local money. Costa Rica is supposed to contribute $100 million, but the country does not have the money.

The sewer situation has been dubbed Costa Rica’s dirty little secret: that a country so dedicated to environmental protection would allow the untreated sewage from its most densely populated area to flow into the sea. The Central Valley sewage flows untreated into rivers and streams and then into the Río Grande de Tárcoles and then into the Gulf of Nicoya, which also happens to be a source for much of the country’s seafood. The mouth of the river is just a few miles north of some prime Costa Rican beaches, including that of Jacó.

The plan to repair and extend the rotting and rusting sewer system dates back to the Abel Pacheco administration. It was Pacheco who joked at a news conference that the Tárcoles crocodiles, which are a tourist attraction at the Costanera bridge near Jacó, were eating mainly Central Valley sewage, although he was not that delicate.

The legislature, after much discussion, finally agreed to accept the loan in 2006 after asking the Japanese to extend the deadline for acceptance several times.
A primary treatment plant for the sewage is part of the first stage of the project. The contract for that part of the project still has not been awarded, and when it is there is another delay while the final contract is evaluated, said the Contraloría.

The water and sewer agency is unlikely to meet the first stage deadline of July 31, 2013, nor the final deadline set by the bank in 2015, the Contraloría said.

As of July 30 Acueductos y Alcantarillados has spent less than 2 percent of the money instead of the 14 percent it had estimated by that date in the initial timetable, said the Contraloría.

The water and sewer agency also is behind by five months on the design of the collector lines that will bring the sewage to the treatment plant and because of this it is impossible to seek out the easements that will be needed to start running lines, said the Contraloría.

The Contraloría said that the delays and the delay in seeking alternative financing for Costa Rica’s share compromise the project and cost additional interest on the Japanese loan. It added that the water and sewer agency should develop a strategy to minimize its risks if the project is not concluded by the original deadline of Dec. 7, 2015, and that the Ministerio de Hacienda, the finance ministry, should figure out a way to get the money for Costa Rica’s share.

Officials have noted that the problem with sewers has been obvious for decades. In the growing metro area some homes still have septic tanks, frequently installed badly.

Elsewhere collector pipes are rusted out and dump their contents into flowing streams.

The plan is designed to provide municipal sewers to areas that are now out of the reach of the system to eliminate a lot of the ground runoff caused by septic systems.

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