The Punta Gorda hospital has been discharging poorly treated wastewater into the Gulf of Honduras, Caribbean Sea, for many years.  A Rotary International matching grant, with partner clubs from Idaho and Wisconsin, USA, is correcting this problem.  The original project was for the hospital only but three other medical buildings are also having wastewater problems, so our partner clubs stepped up with additional funding to take care of all the wastewater problems in the medical facilities campus.  The total project funding is $37,550US, which will build a new septic tank, a new collection system around the hospital campus and subsurface constructed wetlands (wastewater garden) for high quality final treatment.

 Project Status – As of Aug 1, 2010, the site is prepared, the septic tank is complete, the excavation for the wetlands is complete and the liner for the wetlands has been purchased.  We are in the middle of our annual rainy season, so work has slowed.  If we can get a few dry days, the liner will be placed and gravel will be trucked in and placed.  The final step will be planting wetlands plants in the gravel.  The wetlands plants are the work horses in this type of treatment system.

Punta Gorda Regional Hospital

 Wastewater Treatment Issues and Recommendations


Punta Gorda Town, Toledo District, Belize – Punta Gorda is situated in the Toledo District and is the southern most town in Belize.  The Toledo District is well documented as the most economically disadvantaged district in the developing country of Belize, Central America.   The population of Punta Gorda is approximately 5,000, consisting mainly of a mixture of Mestizos, Garifuna, Maya, Creole and East Indian.  The total population for the Toledo District is approximately 21,000.  The majority of the local economy is based on small farms and fishing.  Tourism is in its infancy.  Most of the Maya villages depend on subsistence level farming for a living.


Punta Gorda Regional Hospital – The Punta Gorda Hospital provides the primary medical care for people living in and visiting the Toledo District.  Built in the 1950’s, the two-story building is very basic as are the services provided.  The lower level includes administration offices, a laboratory, a pharmacy, nursing stations, examination rooms and four physician offices.  The upper level contains approximately 40 beds with 36 of the beds in 4 wardrooms.  Generally the hospital is in poor repair but it does seem to provide acceptable primary medical care.


Existing Wastewater Treatment System – The current treatment system is situated across Main Street from the hospital on a seaside lot, which is owned by the Red Cross.  The treatment system consists of a 6,282-gallon septic tank, a “soak away”, and what, at one time was two small lagoons in series.  A “soak away” consists of a concrete lid over concrete sidewalls and is open to the soil in the bottom.    The lagoons no longer function.  The dike between the lagoons has been breeched and the wastewater simply flows in a narrow ditch toward the sea.  The end dike of the second lagoon is still somewhat intact but recently a small ditch was dug which allows discharge to the sea. Hospital water records show an average monthly water usage of 60,000 gallons or approximately 2,000 gallons per day.




·        Current wastewater treatment at the Punta Gorda Hospital is inadequate.  There are odor problems and a public health concern with partially treated wastewater exposed to the air and consequently, potential vectors of disease.  Often there is stagnate poorly treated effluent pooled in the lower end of the property, which is excellent mosquito breeding habitat.  As the ponded effluent becomes deeper it reaches an overflow point which discharges to the sea becoming a nutrient and pathogen problem in the sea.


·        Storm water mixed with wastewater – It appears that the storm water system for the hospital grounds is an issue.  During heavy rain events, the septic tank routinely overflows causing additional wastewater to be on the surface of the ground.  This maybe from intentional storm water connections to the wastewater collection system but it may also be from a poor quality wastewater collection system.


·        Some wastewater is not now treated – In discussions with the operations superintendent, it seems that some wastewater generating facilities at the hospital, such as the laundry, are not connected to the treatment system at all and are discharged to the town storm drain system.  This is also a potential health hazard.




·        Professional Engineer Carlton Young has been retained to review the analysis done by Environmental health professionals with experience in small wastewater treatment systems.  Mr Young is also adding detail, an approved  design and provide a cost estimate.


·        Constructed wetlands treatment – Many alternatives are available to correct this wastewater treatment problem.  However, constructed subsurface flow wetlands are a proven low cost, low technology, alternative that is particularly well suited for the climate in Punta Gorda.  It appears that the property where the existing treatment system is located is large enough to accommodate the proposed system.  Wetlands treatment design varies widely.  The professional engineer has determined the best design for this situation.


This type of system is also called a wastewater garden, because flowers and other beneficial plants reuse the water and produce a beautiful garden.  The subsurface flow system means that the wastewater is never on the surface reducing the possibility of disease transmission.  The treated water is discharged at approximately 4 inches below the gravel surface, assuring that no wastewater is exposed to the air.  Water tolerant plants are planted in a gravel bed of adequate size to accomplish treatment through the natural actions of the plants.  Plants in this area that have been shown to work very well include ginger, banana and heliconia.  With these flowers in bloom, wastewater treatment couldn’t be nicer looking.


·        Inspect and repair storm water pipes – The addition of storm water to the wastewater stream multiplies the treatment problem.  The professional engineer should inspect all wastewater and storm water piping and recommend repairs and replacement to accomplish separation of the water. 


·        All wastewater must be properly treated – A comprehensive review of all wastewater producing activities should be conducted to assure all wastewater is properly treated.


·        Inspect septic tank – The professional engineer should inspect the septic tank to determine if the size and design are appropriate for this situation.  Recommendations for repairs or replacement should be made.





Committment has been made with members of three Rotary Clubs in the USA, with the Rotary Club of Couer D’Alene Idaho taking the lead role in partnership with our local club here in Punta Gorda.  They have been very positive about the project, which is similar to other projects they have assisted with in Central America.  This project is funded through grants available from those clubs and matching funding from their Districts and The Rotary Foundation.  


In summary, it appears that this matching grant project will solve this problem of inadequate wastewater treatment at very low cost to the hospital and country of Belize, while establishing a beautiful park like area. 



One Response to “PG Hospital Wastewater Upgrade — updated 2 August 2010!”

  1. Lisa Woodye-Avila Says:

    We have finished with this project on July 14th, we all went out and planted flowers as the finishing part of the project. At last


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