Berkeley seeks to improve sanitation in Cuban sister city

Alan S. Kay/Courtesy

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The city of Berkeley is undergoing a project to improve the sanitation system of its Cuban sister city, Palma Soriano.

The two cities’ relationship stretches back nearly a decade, with sister-city relations established in 2002. Having given various humanitarian aid — including donations of hospital supplies — and art exchanges, the city of Berkeley is now moving on to a larger endeavor: improving the sewage treatment systems in Palma Soriano.

“This project is a real possibility,” said Berkeley-Palma Soriano Sister City Association President Rebecca Navarrete-Davis . “We’re going to really put our support behind (the project).”

The proposed sewage improvement program intends to improve the water quality and reduce the process’s environmental impact, making sewage treatment in Palma Soriano both clean and green. The initiative, proposed by UC Berkeley graduate student Daniela Corvillon, is the most recent venture in the Sister City Association’s ongoing efforts to improve the quality of life for Palma Soriano’s citizens.

“We want to benefit the largest amount of citizens possible,” Navarrete-Davis said. “The best way to do that is through cleaner water.”

Tom Miller, president of Green Cities Fund, an organization that has participated in various initiatives in Palma Soriano, believes the proposed system is a great alternative to old-style sewage treatment plants.

Though the project’s greatest strength lies in its low cost, the project also allows water to be recycled and used for other purposes without any refinement, a feature Palma Soriano’s current treatment plants lack.

Although the initiative has garnered strong local support in Berkeley, many obstacles continue to inhibit its execution. Private humanitarian organizations are prohibited from working with the Cuban government, and each sister city project requires extensive permission from the United States Treasury Department.

Still, this hurdle seems far off for now, as the project is still very much in a preliminary stage, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has been heavily invested in the sister-city relationship since its inception.

Despite potential difficulties government regulations pose, the project’s proponents remain faithful that the project will be able to go through.

“I think the main thing is that now there’s a lot of support coming from different directions,” Navarrete-Davis said.

For now, there will be a “report-back” given by Mayor Tom Bates and state Sen. Loni Hancock, who visited the city in December, on Feb. 24 to fill in the public on the details of the project.

Claire Chiara is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].