Students make impact in Costa Rican community

October 22, 2015

PLATTEVILLE, Wis – A team of University of Wisconsin-Platteville students recently won the Central States Water Environment Association student design competition in Madison, Wisconsin. The regional competition required students to develop innovative wastewater solutions for Piedras Blancas, a small village located in southern Costa Rica.

Piedras Blancas has a population of about 550 and most residents work on palm plantation farms. The village does not have a wastewater system and many of the tightly packed homes have unmaintained septic systems, resulting in greywater and sewage that overflows the streets and ultimately runs into a nearby river.

With goals to limit mechanical processes and minimize operational costs and difficulty, UW-Platteville environmental engineering students Devin Peterson from Atkinson, Illinois, Dylan Friss from Racine, Wisconsin, and Curtis Veit from Appleton, Wisconsin, designed a gravity collection system and low-cost lagoon treatment system. “The project presented several challenges to our design team including space availability for the proposed lagoon, spacing between houses for laterals, international codes, unit conversions, availability of local information, and language barriers,” said Peterson.

After winning the competition, the UW-Platteville team was invited to bring their winning design to Piedras Blancas in August. Under the guidance of professional engineers from CSWEA, the students spent more than a week in the community finalizing their design to meet field conditions.

During their time in Costa Rica, the team worked with government officials to obtain approval and permits for the project, and even spent some time in local elementary schools teaching children about the importance of clean water and proper sanitation.

Peterson said visiting the village and witnessing the sewage and waste in the streets was an eye-opening experience. “We really wanted to make a change and bring everything into central treatment so that they don’t have problems with unclean water running into the river,” he said.

According to Dr. Michael Penn, Environmental Engineering Professor at UW-Platteville, the effort to provide assistance to Costa Rican communities is part of the Global Water Stewardship initiated by CSWEA. The Executive Director of CSWEA, Mohammed Haque, was one of the first students to earn an environmental engineering degree from UW-Platteville in 1997. “Mohammed is excited about the collaboration with UW-Platteville and we are looking at doing future senior design projects in Costa Rica,” said Penn.

Peterson, Friss, and Veit also presented their design at the Water Environment Federation’s Annual Technical Exhibition and Conference on September 26—30. Held in Chicago, Illinois, WEFTEC is the largest water quality exhibition in the world. The team placed fourth in the national competition.

Written by: Laura Janisch, University Information and Communications, 608-342-1194,


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