How One Group is Transforming a Sewage Plant into an Urban Oasis

For thousands of years, humankind has gathered in groups to form communities. These communities have multiple systems that help them to function. And it is of paramount importance that one of these systems deals with raw sewage, not just to remove it from living areas but also to treat the wastewater before it is released out into the environment. Obviously, wastewater treatment facilities don’t add to the real estate value of local land. In fact, most areas adjacent to wastewater treatment facilities are completely abandoned.

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Enter Agua Inc. Agua Inc. is a global development group dedicated to turning the modern wastewater treatment facility into an urban oasis. This mission is accomplished by harnessing the power of natural flora and bacteria to biologically treat a city’s wastewater. The method, coined Aquatic Biological Integrated Systems (ABIS), relies on the ecosystems of aquatic plants and microorganisms to filter contaminants from the wastewater in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.

Sounds great, right? But the question is, can this system really work? If you ask the residents of a small village in Gambia, that answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

Gambia is situated on the northwest coast of Africa. The country has suffered various droughts over the years, and has struggled to achieve universal access to clean water for its more than two million citizens. Just west of the capital city, Banjul, is a community known as Kotu. Both the population of greater Serrekunda area and many local farmers rely on Kotu for water. Because of this, the Kotu sewage system has been incredibly strained.

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Kotu’s wastewater treatment facilities were overrun by sewage, trash, and broken equipment. This caused the sewage to leak out into the ground water sources, nearby rivers, and even out into the Atlantic Ocean. Animals living in this ecosystem were becoming increasingly sick. Farmers who relied on Kotu’s water for irrigating their crops were producing contaminated foods. Even the local tourism market was suffering from the unpleasant sights and smells of the area.

So when Agua Inc. co-founder Bianca Griffith visited Kotu in 2014, she knew that this dire situation had created a perfect environment to test the organization’s ABIS wastewater treatment method. The ABIS illuminates the need for expensive machinery, harmful chemicals, and high energy demands. Because of this, the Kotu Ponds are one of the most affordable and sustainable wastewater treatment systems in the world.

The investment in the community involves a system staff that is 90% local, and has actually helped the local economy by preventing sludge, smells, and gunk from marring the landscape of the popular tourist destination. The low operating costs allow Agua Inc. to keep sewage treatment costs low for residents, while still providing a high return to their investors. Agua Inc.’s efforts in Gambia have proven that environmentally friendly innovation can provide endless possibilities for developing communities around the globe.

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