Process Engineer and Chair of the Central States Water Environment Association Global Water Stewardship subcommittee Second Vice Chair Liz Heise blogs about public education, training and creating centralized sanitation facilities in Costa Rica.

Global Water Stewardship (GWS) is a subcommittee of Central States Water Environment Association (CSWEA), an organization of wastewater treatment professionals from Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Founded in 2013, GWS works to educate people and engineer sustainable centralized solutions that keep waterways clean and communities healthy. Volunteers include members of CSWEA, engineers from across the U.S., students, and business and marketing professionals.

GWS is currently working in Costa Rica. Outside of the city of San Jose, septic systems are typically used to collect black water only in densely populated communities. This creates the risk of accumulating pollutants in the groundwater, where they source their drinking water. Their use also means higher risk of failure from lack of maintenance and septic haulers. This results in pollution of waterways, leading to disease and environmental degradation. Additionally, untreated grey water flows through trenches along roads, straight to rivers, estuaries and the ocean. This water carries contaminants that are detrimental to both human health and marine life. Untreated wastewater can negatively impact the biodiversity that Costa Rica is known for as well as tourism and resources that residents’ livelihoods depend on.

Each year, GWS works with AyA, the Costa Rican governing water authority, to identify a community served by an ASADA – or local drinking water utility – that would benefit from a centralized sanitation facility. During visits throughout the year, GWS provides education to school children and community members on the impacts humans have on the water cycle, the implications of water pollution, and the benefits of centralized sanitation. The group also engages American university students through an annual engineering student design competition, which results in the design of a centralized facility to meet the needs of the identified community. Volunteers from GWS then coordinate with local regulators, community officials and funding partners to complete the design, obtain necessary permitting and construct the facilities. After completion, GWS will assist with startup of facilities and training of operators. Currently, projects in five communities are in the works:  Piedras Blancas, Bahia Ballena, Dominical, Palmar Sur and Monteverde. GWS also hosted their first operator training seminar in August 2018. This was a 2 day course to share the basics on how to operate a treatment plant with the future plant operators. For more information about what we do go to or find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @H2Ostewards.

GWS members meet with Costa Rican ASADAGWS members meet with Costa Rican ASAD representatives.

Greywater buildup in DominicalGreywater buildup in Dominical.

Liz Heise

Liz Heise, GWS Marketing Chair and 2nd Vice ChairLiz Heise is a process engineer for Trotter and Associates, Inc. She graduated from UIUC with a degree in biological engineering in 2015. She has been involved with GWS since 2016, serving as marketing chair, and now as 2nd vice chair. She is very passionate about cleaning up our water systems and loves getting to use her knowledge to help improve not only local communities, but communities across the globe. 

Explore Other WaterBlogs

The WEF WaterBlog covers a wide range of topics relevant to WEF, its Member Associations, and the water sector. Authors are invited to share their opinions1, experiences, and expertise.

Access the full list of
WEF WaterBlogs

1These blogs offer the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official policy of the organization.