2016 Progress Report: Integrating Water and Energy Engineering with Ecotourism in a Costa Rican Aboriginal Community

EPA Grant Number: SU835941
Title: Integrating Water and Energy Engineering with Ecotourism in a Costa Rican Aboriginal Community
Investigators: Reinhold, Dawn
Current Investigators: Reinhold, Dawn , Liao, Wei , Hidalgo., David Arias , Aguilar, Ronald , Bustamante, Mauricio
Institution: Michigan State University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: II
Project Period: September 1, 2015 through August 31, 2017 (Extended to August 31, 2018)
Project Period Covered by this Report: October 1, 2015 through September 30,2016
Project Amount: $74,980
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2015) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Sustainable and Healthy Communities , P3 Awards , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Safe and Sustainable Water Resources


This project aims to implement an integrated water-wastewater-energy system for an ecotourism project led by the Shuabb Aborigine Women Association in Shuabb, Limon, one of the poorest regions of Costa Rica. Integrating environmentally friendly technologies, such as filters, anaerobic digestion and constructed treatment wetlands, the project specifically aims to (1) demonstrate the efficacy and practicality of the designed systems through installation and monitoring, (2) increase the lifespan of the ecotourism site through design of site hydrology, (3) promote ecotourism in the Shuabb community while educating potential ecotourists about small-scale water treatment, solar-assisted biodigesters, and treatment wetlands, and (4) train U.S. engineers to work within and with different cultures. In cooperation with the Gender Equity Office from the Technological Institute of Costa Rica, this engineered ecosystem can demonstrate the economic value of such development in a region with limited access to public services. This kind of holistic design will protect the local environment and culture, the greater country of Costa Rica, and ultimately the planet.

Progress Summary:

A new team, consisting of approximately 20 undergraduates and two graduate students, was formed in August of 2015. Throughout September through December 2015, students optimized the proposed design, sourced materials, and figured out transportation logistics. A total of eight MSU students, two Costa Rican faculty, five Costa Rican students, and the PI traveled for the January implementation trip. One anaerobic digestion tank, the solar panel and heat transfer system, the gas collection and storage system, and a water storage tank were installed. Additionally, the hole for the wetland was dug, the drainage systems placed, and covered with gravel from a nearby riverbed. In between January and May, community members filled the wetland with sand and finished digging the hole for the second digester tank. Three students then traveled in May 2017 to finish the installation. After connecting the second digester tank, the team planted the wetland, fixed some leaks in the first digester tank, and installed gas distribution with lamps. The team also installed the potable water filter and showed community members how to take and analyze samples for the systems.

In addition to the activities associated with the implementation trips, students successfully completed two major aims from the United States. A drainage plan for the site was created and webpages describing the system and the eco-resort were developed.


While we have encountered one major obstacle and experienced one minor design problem, we are confident that we can still achieve the project goals within budget. We have gained the trust of the new teacher at the school, which allows us to still implement a water/wastewater/energy system for the school – just one year later than we initially planned. We are confident that we can fix the leak within the system. Fortunately, because cost-effective travel decisions in the first year and students’ personal contributions saved enough money within the travel budget that we can afford at least one more trip to Costa Rica to solve these problems, we fully expect to achieve the proposed goals of the project and implement two sustainable water/wastewater/energy systems for the Bribri community in Shuabb, Costa Rica.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 2 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

anaerobic digestion, wetland, solar energy, wastewater, drinking water

Relevant Websites:

Alojamiento Exit

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2017 Progress Report
  • Final Report

  • P3 Phase I:

    Integrating Water and Energy Engineering with Ecotourism in a Costa Rican Aboriginal Community  | Final Report