Leading by Example

Plant contractors take community members to a neighboring facility to show them the benefits a wastewater treatment plant can have on their town.
Leading by Example
Signs at the plant help show touring visitors how the process works and explain the benefits of treatment.

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When potable water had to be trucked in and septic tanks were the only option for wastewater treatment for the Leyes de Reforma community in Playas de Rosarito, Mexico, the city’s wastewater treatment officials believed they would have no trouble getting support from community members to build a new facility. They were wrong.

“Everybody opposed the plant,” says Rigo Laborin, president of Mexican construction company Laval Tijuana, who helped design the new plant in collaboration with WesTech. “They wanted a sewer system, but they didn’t want a wastewater treatment plant.” Community members eventually saw the benefits a plant could have, and the 5 mgd (average) Planta de Tratamiento de Aguas Residuales (“Rosarito Norte”) was born.

Show and tell

Opposition to the proposed facility stemmed from a bad example of a wastewater treatment plant about five miles from Rosarito. “The other plant was an old anaerobic treatment system that, in the old days, was maybe the only feasible option,” says Laborin. Playas de Rosarito was one of the fastest growing cities in Mexico at the time, so it was obvious the anaerobic system was not going to work.

“The water was identical coming in and going out, and the smell was terrible,” he says. “With this in their minds and noses, it was the only example the people from the Leyes de Reforma community in Rosarito had of a wastewater treatment plant.”

Laborin and other plant designers and contractors had to change the community members’ view on what a wastewater treatment plant was supposed to do and how it was supposed to look. Fortunately, in neighboring Tijuana, the Santa Fe I treatment plant (0.5 mgd average) had been built about two years earlier and was an example of a properly operating facility.

“It was a very good-looking plant,” says Laborin. “Instead of a wastewater treatment plant, we called it a water factory for reuse.” Laborin needed to show and not just tell community members what he and plant designers wanted to build in Rosarito.

“We took about 10 community members to the Santa Fe plant at the beginning, and then 20, and then 20 more,” says Laborin. “We did that until the leader of their group said, ‘This is not what we are accustomed to as a wastewater treatment plant. If you’re going to build something like this plant in Rosarito, we might consider it.’ ”

Plant superintendent Benigno Medina runs the treatment plants in Rosarito and was involved in the planning of the Rosarito Norte plant. “We wanted to raise their awareness and inform them that the plant would not pose a nuisance to the community,” he says. “They were also informed that this new facility would treat their wastewater, and as a result, increase the equity in their properties.”

Plant paybacks

The Rosarito plant began operation in 2006 at 1.5 mgd and within a few years had to be expanded with another 3.5 mgd to meet demand. It is now operated by the City of Tijuana water and waste authority. “No one opposed the expansion because the first one was what the city promised,” says Laborin.

The community also benefited from jobs created when the plant was built, a structured sewer system, paved roads, and a 10-plus-acre park with a community center.

Overall, the rough road that led to the treatment plant was worth the effort. Says Laborin, “We work for generations that have not been born yet.”


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