Wednesday, March 18, 2015

into the sewers

Once upon a time, there was a perfect little village on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

All of its inhabitants regularly paid their water and property taxes, and their wastes were carried away to the woods, where fairies, dragons, and witches turned their sewage into recyclable, carbon-free stones out of which they could build their magic cottages filled with quaint music and other cultural delights to amuse visitors from afar.

Nothing ever went wrong.  And they all lived the lives they richly deserved.

Well, that is not the village where I have been living for the past six years.  I have long known of the sewer and water problems of Pueblo Nuevo in Barra de Navidad.  And I thought I was quite smug when I bought a house in the barrio -- to avoid those specific problems.

What I did not know was that the barrio had its own sewage issue.  There was a period of about three or four months where the pump at the lift station was not operating.  When that happens the sewage is allowed to drain freely from a relief pipe.  (I do love some of these terms.) 

It has happened before.  It will happen again.

But our wider area has a bigger sewage problem than that.

Last Wednesday I attended a Rotary meeting.  The guest speaker was Dr. Roberto Pimienta Woo, a local doctor, who has been bitten by the political bug.

He is offering his services to the voters in his goal of becoming president of our local municipality (roughly the equivalent of being chairman of a county commission up north) on the MORENA ticket (a party often labelled as left wing nationalist).

One of his concerns is the lack of sewage treatment in our area.  (And I am going to avoid the cheap shot of a politician promoting sewage treatment.  That would simply be too easy.)

Several years ago, the federal government built a sewage treatment plant just north of Melaque at great expense.  The plant looks like something you would see in any western country.  Treatment tanks.  Settling ponds.  Nifty little office. 

It was one of 266 similar plants the government built for local districts.  Of those plants, only 55 are now working.

One of the limitations of local government in Mexico is the three-year turnover of elected officials.  Because there is no benefit in spending money on a previous administration's pet projects, many of them die on the vine.

That is what happened to the plant.  When pumps failed to operate or thieves stole parts, the facility sat idle.  For four years, it has not been treating anything.  The plant is now estimated to cost $20,000,000 (Mx) to put back in operation.

I find that figure to be -- well, incredible.  But that is what the good doctor says.

He claims it would be a waste of money because that type of plant is prone to breakdowns and it will never be able to keep up with the load piped to it.

To no one's surprise, he had a better idea.  On a trip to northern China, he was shown a wetland settling pond for sewage.  Being a bright guy, he saw how that idea could be transferred to our coastal plain.

With 4 hectares, the local government could build a wetland settling pond.  The pond would require extensive excavation, lining materials, and related costs to put it into operation.  He hopes to find federal funding for that portion of his idea.  Apparently, other localities are experimenting with similar systems.

The catch is the 4 hectares which he estimates to cost $40,000 (US).  Even though he did not make a direct pitch to Rotary, the subtext was clear: if you would like to prevent your sewage from eventually flowing out to your lovely swimming beaches, money must be raised.

There is enough irony in this to provide material for me for a full year.  But I will cop out by saying that Article 33 of the Mexican Constitution provides me a get-out-of-this-conversaion free card: "Foreigners may not in any way participate in the political affairs of the country."

So, I will bide my time -- until I get my Mexican citizenship.  Color me skeptical, but I doubt I will ever see sewage from my neighborhood being properly treated in my lifetime.

I can wait.  I am a patient man.

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