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How Brazil's shantytown regains clean water for $ 42,300

Butterflies and Onagakaede fly through the Enchant Valley, just outside the Tijuca Forest National Park in Rio de Janeiro. It has fruit trees, nearby waterfalls and stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. But for decades something has ruined the idyllic: the stink of raw sewage.

Power arrived in the late 20th century in the low-income enchantment valley community named after it from a nearby housing project, but the power company did not connect it to the city's sewer network. Waste polluted the local environment and endangered the health of the inhabitants.

So the community tried to solve the problem on its own by building biodigesters and artificial wetlands to treat all the sewage produced by 40 families.

The organization, which went live in June, is the entire shantytown of Brazil, according to Teresa Williamson, executive director of Catalyst Communities, a non-profit organization that supports poorly serviced areas. It is the first independently constructed biosystem in Brazil. And it could serve as an example of rural settlements across Brazil. According to official data, 45% of Brazilian sewage is not collected.

The Enchantment Valley project has been created for many years. Otabio Barros, the president of the neighborhood association, took a group of tourists to a downhill waterfall in 2007. When they wanted to bathe in the water, he said they couldn't. All of the community's sewage was flowing through that cascade. But with the seeds of ideas planted, he began to strengthen his support.

"At that time, it was difficult to make people aware and show that everyone would benefit," he told The Associated Press as he walked through the community.

Residents' association President Otavio Barros works on the gas outlet of the sewage treatment biosystem of the Enchanted Valley sustainable community on the outskirts of Tijuca National Forest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 6, 2022.
Residents' Association President Otabio Barros works at the gas outlet June 6, 2022, Survey of sewage treatment biological systems in a sustainable community in the Enchanted Valley on the outskirts of Tijuca National Forest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He found a companion among the researchers at the Pontifical Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro, where he worked as an administrative assistant. They secured funding from the Rio State Foundation in 2015 to support research to complete the first phase, and more recently, German and Brazilian nonprofits Vivacon Agua and Instituto Climae Sociedade from the catalytic community. Connected all homes with additional funding.

Barros worked for several months with five other inhabitants. It included three weeks of breaking through rocks to create a new pipe passage. They lead to dome-shaped biodigesters where sewage is ingested by anaerobic microorganisms. The remaining liquid is then purified by meandering under the constructed wetland and fertilizing the plants above.

Houses in the Enchanted Valley sustainable community stand on the outskirts of Tijuca National Forest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 6, 2022.
Enchantment Valley sustainable community homes are in the suburbs Standing June 6, 2022, Tijuca National Forest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The total price of the system was about $ 42,300 (220,000 rare). According to Leonardo Adler, founding partner of Taboa Engenharia, who oversaw the technical aspects of the work, this is a quarter of the cost of running a pipe through the forest to the existing sewer network at sea level.

The federal government has plans to improve sewage treatment throughout Brazil and is pursuing it through private concessions in metropolitan areas. However, that approach does not help small isolated communities such as the Enchant Valley where the sewage odor is gone and the nearby waterfalls are clean for bathing.

"I'm very happy because it was a very difficult stage to bring in a partner, involve the community, capture the sewage and restore it to a clean environment," Barros said. "It's part of a dream that becomes a reality. We have others for the valley."