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Should You Upgrade Your Septic System?

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

In 2013, after coming to Nosara for vacations for a few years, my husband and I bought a house here.

As the next decade unfolded, we increasingly noticed the presence of smelly brown froth in the ocean,

particularly soon after rainy season started. Not surprisingly, the presence of this unwelcome brown

froth coincided with the rapid growth of Nosara that started in 2015 and 2016. This growth followed

Nosara receiving significant international publicity as an idyllic surf and yoga destination. Since then, the

brown water has only gotten worse. Further it is likely a contributing cause of the increasing numbers of

red tides Nosara has experienced.



What IS that brown froth we see in the ocean?

For years, many people said it’s sand, or seaweed. But alas, we quickly learned it was neither. Rather, it was none other than untreated sewage (fecal coliform), making its way along the estuaries and rivers and into the ocean once the rains started.


My husband and I are pretty much entrenched in Nosara now, as there is (still) much to love about this

community. But—Surfing is our primary reason for being here, and given the state of the ocean, we

asked ourselves: would we rather move to a more pristine spot in Costa Rica (to the extent they still

exist!) and not deal with this, or would we rather try to fix it.


Having worked with the WCA water quality initiative, we knew that “fixing it” involved inspecting, and

likely replacing our septic system, as the vast majority of systems in Nosara are inadequate for the

amount of waste produced. We knew we had an inadequate system. [How can you find out if you do?


We started by having our system inspected.

We discovered that we needed a much bigger black water tank with two chambers instead of one. In addition, we had no separate grey water tank (which we should have had), and our leach field was a circle that was only about 3 feet in diameter—far too small to be even marginally effective.


And so, we made the decision to put in a larger black water tank and a grey water tank, and to greatly

expand our leach field. We also added a “pirana” system to help clean the black water tank (Learn more about Pirana systems here, these will be explained in detail in another blog post).


All this would cost money. The cost/benefit calculus was pretty straight forward, involving both

individual costs and benefits, and societal costs and benefits:


Benefits we considered included:

  1. We wanted clean water to surf in—for ourselves, and for others to surf and swim in.

  2. We wanted to be part of the solution for the community—and not contribute to the problem.

  3. Without action, this problem will only get worse.

  4. The future value of our house depends on getting this problem in Nosara fixed.

  5. The future ability to rent our house also depends on getting this problem fixed. There are already comments in facebook posts, articles, and newspapers about Nosara’s water quality problems; the attention on this issue will only get worse as the problem continues!

  6. Not fixing this can affect health. WCA has documented the health effects of fecal coliform in the ocean—eye and ear infections, diarrhea and rashes. Each of these health effects are increasing, and will likely continue to do so without intervention.

  7. It also affects the health of sea fish and animals, and we owe it to the sea life to protect them. But even further, as Nosareños know, the only reason we have a beach that isn’t lined with homes, hotels, and businesses (see Tamarindo and Samara as examples) is because we are part of the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge—a sanctuary to protect the Oliver Ridley sea turtle.

  8. Any “community wide” solution for Nosara to this problem is MANY years away. Replacing our septic system helps right now, rather than wait years for a solution that may never come, all the while our ocean gets dirtier and dirtier.

Costs we considered

There was only one—cash to be expended. Our system upgrade, all in, was about $3,000. The Pirana added an additional $1,500 of cost. We felt that this was a very reasonable price to pay given the benefits —to us, and the community—enumerated above.


We weren’t going for “perfect”. We were going for “significantly better”. There are more expensive and effective options than what we did (Bionest, to name one great option). But if everyone in Guiones could commit to at least doing “better”, our ocean would be much healthier for it, and our home and rental values would be secure.


We hope each home and business owner in Nosara will make their own cost/benefit analysis, and make

the decision to be part of the solution—not part of the problem.


Take Action for Clean Water Now!

Most wastewater treatment systems in the area are inadequate. Get to know your wastewater treatment system using the Water Page at Sustainablenosara.com and have your system inspected by a professional to evaluate it. Ask for recommendations for improvements and a quote for your system upgrade. If you are considering a Bionest system, mention the WCA and receive a discount on your order!


------------ Each step contributes to a healthier ocean and a more sustainable future for our community. Join us in being part of the solution, safeguarding the beauty and value of this cherished sanctuary. Discover more through our Water Page at Sustainablenosara.com or our Wastewater Guide and pave the way for cleaner waters in Nosara!


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