Collaborative international research: Technology transfer & efficiency of wastewater treatment systems in rural communities of Bolivia

Meredith M. Ballard, Abigail R. Clarke, Afton Sather-Knutsen, Brian D. Barkdoll, James R. Mihelcic

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


There has been increased recognition that the world faces serious challenges in terms of long-term economic growth, societal prosperity, and environmental protection. In particular, health problems resulting from environmental risks and a lack of economic resources in the developing world pose daunting challenges to the global scientific and engineering communities. Addressing these challenges through international research experiences integrated with sustainability and appropriate technology principles represents a significant and critical contribution to a more sustainable future. This paper describes a National Science Foundation-supported international research partnership that helps address sustainable development through increasing global access to adequate water and sanitation. The partnership consisted of seven undergraduate and graduate students from Michigan Technological University, six undergraduate environmental engineering students from Bolivian Technological University (UTB), and technical staff affiliated with a non-governmental organization, ACDI-VOCA (Agricultural Cooperative Development International and Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance). The Michigan Tech students were studying environmental engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, and environmental policy. Wastewater treatment systems located in three small rural communities (Palos Blancos, Sapecho, and San Antonio) were studied. These three systems include: 1) a septic tank with anaerobic filter, 2) an Upflow Sludge Blanket Reactor with stabilizing lagoons, and 3) a stabilization-lagoon system respectively. Detailed water quality analyses were performed at each plant and performance was compared with the projected performance from the original design. System efficiency was evaluated in terms of cost, treatment effectiveness, and maintenance. Additionally, interviews with water committees were completed to determine what understanding of the system was conveyed when the technology was transferred from the design and construction stage to the community. Results showed that only two of three systems were functioning due to failure in operation, low capacity, insufficient funds for maintenance, system over-design, and the lack of knowledge base about the system from the community. Plant performance appears to be strongly influenced by the knowledge base and lack of funds for each water committee. Recommendations were made for greater ease in community ownership of constructed wastewater treatment systems. This collaborative research effort produced an intensive cultural exchange and inter-disciplinary collaboration demonstrating developing communities' reasons why systems under-perform.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWorld Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2008
Subtitle of host publicationAhupua'a - Proceedings of the World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2008
StatePublished - Dec 1 2008
EventWorld Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2008: Ahupua'a - Honolulu, HI, United States
Duration: May 12 2008May 16 2008


OtherWorld Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2008: Ahupua'a
CountryUnited States
CityHonolulu, HI


  • Latin America
  • Research
  • Rural areas
  • Wastewater management

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