RIO DE JANEIRO ( Associated Press) – Butterflies and ravens flutter through the Enchanted Valley just outside Rio de Janeiro’s Tijuca Forest National Park. There are fruit trees, a waterfall nearby, and a commanding view over the Atlantic Ocean. But over the decades, something tainted the statue: the stench of sewage.
Electricity came to the poor community of Valle Encantado in the late 20th century, taking its name from a nearby residential project, but the power company never connected it to the city’s sewer network. The waste polluted the local environment and put the health of the residents at risk.
So the community set out to solve the problem on its own by building a biodigester and artificial wetlands to process all the wastewater generated by their 40 families.
It went into full operation in June and is the first independently built biosystem for the entire Brazilian favela, according to Theresa Williamson, executive director of Catalytic Communities, a non-profit organization that supports underserved communities. And it can serve as an example for rural settlements throughout Brazil. According to official statistics, 45% of Brazilians do not collect wastewater.
The Enchanted Valley Project has been in the making for years. The president of the neighborhood association, Ottavio Barros, took a group of tourists to a spring in 2007 and when they wanted to bathe in its waters, he told them they could not; The sewage of the whole community got washed away in that spring. However, the seed of the idea was sown and support started to take shape.
“So it was more difficult to make people aware, to show that everyone would benefit,” he told the Associated Press while visiting the community.
He found ally among researchers at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, where he worked as an administrative assistant. They received funding from the Rio State Foundation for research support to complete the first phase in 2015, and most recently the German and Brazilian non-profits Viva Con Agua and Instituto Clima e Sociedade, to link each house, Catalyst. With additional funding from communities.
Barros worked with five other residents of the neighborhood for months, which involved about three weeks breaking rocks to make paths for new pipes. These lead to vaulted biodigesters, where wastewater is ingested by anaerobic microorganisms. The remaining fluid seeps into the bottom of the created wetlands, and is cleaned up by fertilizing the plants above.
The total cost of the system was approximately 220,000 reais ($42,300). According to Leonardo Adler, founding partner of Taboa Engenharia, who oversees the technical part of the works, this is a quarter of the cost of laying pipes through the forest for the existing sewage network at sea level.
The federal government has plans to improve wastewater treatment throughout Brazil, which it is accomplishing through private concessions for large urban areas. But that approach doesn’t help small, isolated communities like Valle Encantado, where the smell of sewage has disappeared and the waterfall near it is clean enough to take a dip in.
“I’m very happy because it has been a very difficult phase to get the partners involved, to get the community involved in collecting the wastewater and making it clean the environment,” Barros said. “It’s part of a dream that comes true. We have others for the Valley.”