My Contact:
Mr. Adolfo Quesada
Trade Commissioner
San Jose, Costa Rica

Costa Rica's waste water sector profile


Only 14% of wastewater is treated in Costa Rica. 70% of sewage collection is done through septic tanks without considering the suitable or vulnerable areas for these systems.

This reality is qualified as a national emergency, for which reason the National Wastewater Sanitation Plan (PNSAR) was established, becoming public policy in 2017, the plan’s objective is to achieve by 2045, the safe management of the total number of wastewater generated in the country with an investment of $6.224 million dollars, of which $3.654 million will be allocated to the expansion of wastewater in the urban areas and 2.569 million USD to the expansion and qualification to the sanitation of wastewater in rural areas.

At present, several sanitation projects are being carried out, including the construction of sewerage networks in areas where it did not exist, installation of collectors and sub-collectors, 8 initiatives in the Greater Metropolitan Area, another 8 in coastal and tourist areas of the country and 10 in the improvement of current systems.

All the works are being done with financing from several international and national financial institutions, among them: The Inter-American Development Bank, the Japanese Bank, and the National Bank. Also for the project that will cover the 8 projects of the coastal zones will be funded by the German bank KFW.

By law, Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AYA) is the governing institution of all those projects related to public services for the storage of drinking water and sanitation. For its part, the Ministry of Environment and Energy is the competent body to regulate, monitor and control the use of water bodies including the management of wastewater. The Ministry of Health, is responsible for controlling and regulating wastewater discharges. The Public Services Regulatory Authority (ARESEP) is the institution responsible for setting the prices of the liquid. The Public Services Company of Heredia (ESPH) is the second institution in importance in some cantons of Heredia as it provides potable and wastewater service.

The Administrations Associations of the Systems of the Aqueducts and Communal Sewers (ASADAS) provide water services in rural areas and their main responsibility is the construction, administration, operation and maintenance of rural aqueducts. There are about 1,500 ASADAS registered in the country. Of the total of ASADAS only 5% have wastewater treatment under their charge.

Among the 82 municipalities (local governments), 28 manage their drinking water systems and 5 operate a sanitation system: Escazú, Alajuela, Belén, Flores and Cartago. Specifically for the case of the municipalities, the rates are established by the Comptroller General of the Republic. In the case of other operators, tariffs are defined by ARESEP.

The Sanitary Service is connected to:

Septic tank: 70%
Sanitary sewer with treatment: 15%
Sanitary sewer without treatment: 13%
Latrines where there is no contact with excreta: 1.3%
Outdoor Defecation: 0.4%

Wastewater Collection and Treatment System in Costa Rica
SystemSan José Metropolitan areaRuralTotal
Processing plants91322
Pumping stations1111
Trasvase tunnels1.787 mts1787
Metropolitan emissary3.115 mts3115
Length of the network1.492 Km1492
Sanitary sewer service225,56232 802258 364
Population served789.467114.807
Sewer coverage54%10.4%

Source: AYA

In the ideal scenario, there must be an equal number of connections to the potable water system and connections to the sewer system. However, it is not like that. Meanwhile, as of 2015, there were 795.930 users connected to the drinking water system; only 266.789 were connected to the sewer system. This is due to the limited state investment in sewerage.

Water and sewer connections
ServiceAYA/ubanAYA/ruralESPHAlajuela municipalityTotal
Water total366.571328.58668.56032.213795.930
Sewage total201.92831.06622.01511.780266.789

Source: AYA, ESPH, Municipality of Alajuela

According to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC) in 2011, the coverage of the sanitary sewer system was 28%, however, in 2015 it decreased to 21.4%. This decrease could be explained by the growth of the population and the number of people per household, as the population increases but the number of people per household decreases, they move to live in unique areas in the periphery of urban areas that are not connected to the sewage service.

The most populated urban areas, generate, 665.968 m3 per day of which only 129.254 are treated representing 19.4% of the total generated.

A particularity in Costa Rica is that many treatment plants are being built by condominiums. According to the Association of Engineers and Architects there are some 1466 treatment plants made by the developers, while among the AYA, ESPH and municipalities have 29. The private plants receive about 62,271 m3 daily. In total, in Costa Rica, about 966.455 m3 of wastewater is produced daily, that is, each inhabitant produces an average of 0.2 m3 daily, of which only 14.43% are treated.


Water treatment in Costa Rica is an activity regulated by almost a dozen institutions that in turn have several regulations related to the subject of water treatment. This reality, far from contributing to ordering, causes duplication of efforts and legal loopholes. Some of them:

The purpose of these standards is to establish the basic requirements that ensure an adequate quality of the works. This is especially necessary in certain areas that directly influence public welfare, as is the case with this code.

Sector Challenge

The lack of investment in aqueduct and sewage system with more than 50 years makes it a real challenge to clean up the waters and recover the ecosystems. As well the lack of resources of the entities, duplication of functions, lack of clarity in legislation, and disarticulation of efforts are all challenges the sector faces.

The difficulty in obtaining financing and the lack of public-private partnerships to move this issue forward, is aggravated by the lack of interest of international financial entities to finance public projects.

Recent developments and outlook

During the period from 2011 to 2015, investment in aqueducts increased by 87% from US$36.6 million to US$69 million,

For its part, the Ministry of Health, through its own programs had invested since 2009 some $400 million annually in water treatment systems in low-income communities.

In per capita terms, the average investment in aqueducts is $21,000, while in sewerage it is 4,000.

The AyA promotes the Environmental Improvement Program that includes the development of a new sewerage connection network, with a plan for each house, so that different areas of the country can be integrated into the Los Tajos wastewater treatment plant, inaugurated in 2015.

With a cost of US$ 350 million, work was done on the start of operation of the Los Tajos waste water plant in its first phase and which is in its connection process to increase coverage to 11 counties as priorities. It is expected that the connection networks will be ready in 5 years. The second phase of Tajos is under study. The cost of this phase is estimated at $ 70 million and it foresees biological treatment to the water before being poured into the rivers.

In addition to this investment, the AYA is doing other sanitation projects for an amount of US$335 million including: new systems for the collection of sewage and treatment plants in some 20 coastal zones and in areas that are not suitable for the use of septic tanks.

Likewise, the AYA is carrying out other sanitation projects in rural areas with an investment of close to US$200 million.

Projects in the Pipe Line

There are more than a dozen sanitation and sewerage projects that are starting in the coming months and that have not yet been published their tenders in addition, several projects of the San José Environmental Improvement Plan, including the second phase of the Los Tajos treatment plant, have yet to be awarded.

Market Opportunity

Costa Rica is the country with the lowest sanitary sewer coverage in Central America, reporting 26% of the territory. The Sewerage System of Costa Rica requires many improvements, among them: pipe changes, connection works with the treatment plant among others.

There are several sanitation projects that include water management primarily, such as the National Wastewater Treatment Policy 2017-2045 that assigns a budget of US$6.224 million, the Environmental Improvement Project of the Metropolitan Area of San José with a budget of US$ 72 million, Sanitation Program in Priority Areas with a budget of US$175 million for Palmares, Quepos, Golfito and Jacó, of which US$81million are destined for sanitary sewerage and treatment.

Investment prioritization to 2030
Benefited populationInvestment amount millions $
Metropolitan area5871.082
Current systems236435

Source: National wastewater sanitation policy 2017-2045

Subsectors Identification

Undoubtedly, one of the sectors that has greater opportunity, next to the strong investment that Costa Rica is making in its sewer systems, is the financial one. Despite the fact that the Environmental Sanitation Projects started a few years ago, there is still about $ 200 million to be achieved.

Likewise, it is expected that the Project that will build sewerage systems in priority areas (coastal and intermediate) and whose cost is US$100 million, will begin in the next 18 months with the publication of the bids.


Principal actors

Manuel López
(506) 2242 5746

(506) 2233-4533 / 2257- 0922

(506) 2562 3774

(506) 25406800

Main construction companies of treatment plants

506 2209 34 00
Wendy Blanco

Aliaxis / Durman
506 24364700
Oswaldo García Chinchilla

506 2283 0876
Jessica Nicols

506 40814900
Maniela Quirós

Mucho Tanque
506 2573 8181
Marco Mora

Embajada de Canadá
Adolfo Quesada
(506) 2242 4400

Prepared by: Adolfo Quesada (, Trade Commissioner at Canadian Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica

Date: August 01, 2019

Disclaimer: The Government of Canada has prepared this report based on primary and secondary sources of information. Readers should take note that the Government of Canada does not guarantee the accuracy of any of the information contained in this report, nor does it necessarily endorse the organizations listed herein. Readers should independently verify the accuracy and reliability of the information.

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