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The Water Crisis: A New Water Law for Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s Legislature last Thursday (Nov. 2) approved, in first debate, a new law on the management of water resources, after a 2014 law was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court or Sala IV, following its approval that same year.

The president of the AyA stressed that it is necessary to demystify the new law because it is not true that water is being privatized.

One of the main differences of this new bill – that requires second debate before it can be voted on – with the one from 2014 is the elimination of the articles that refer to hydrological unit councils, whose original purpose was to supervise the application of the law.

This new bill – Ley de Gestión Integrada del Recurso Hídrico (Law on Integrated Management of Water Resources), that was agreed upon jointly with the agricultural and agroindustrial chambers, permits the Dirección Nacional de Aguas (National Water Board) to fine between five and seven base salaries (between ¢2.1 million and ¢2.9 million) to those who drill wells without the proper permits.

 

The President of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA) – national water and sewer service, Yamileth Astorga stressed that it is necessary to demystify the new law because it is not true that water is being privatized.

On the contrary, the Astorga emphasize that it is established, with the status of law, that access to water for consumption is maintained as a human right.

Nacion.com reports that “…The aim of the new legislation is, mainly, to guarantee access to quality drinking water as a human right, to update penalties for illegal exploitation of the resource, specifically for activities such as the illegal digging of wells and water pollution.”

“… Unlike the plan approved in March 2014, the new version of the initiative eliminates the articles that referred to participatory construction in the formulation of the policy, plans and technical regulations of the new water law. In addition, the articles referring to the hydrological unit councils, originally described as intersectoral participation bodies for monitoring application of the law, have been eliminated.”

How Can Costa Rica Have A Water Shortage?

Endemic problems with the water supply are being compounded by the effect of El Niño, and short-term measures are being tried while the root of the problem is left unaddressed.

It’s been said that an Israeli tourist complained of daily interruptions in the water supply in a luxurious beach house he rented in the province of Guanacaste, where lack of water is already a serious issue, and when he was explained that this was a problem in many areas in Costa Rica, he opened his eyes in amazement and said, “They are short of water in this country?”

The editorial in Nacion.com is clear: “The problem is a shortage of water. It’s time to talk about a crisis, without any exaggeration. If meteorologists are not wrong in predicting the lack of rain, four major areas in the Greater Metropolitan area (GAM) could suffer shortages of between four and eight hours a day in the coming months.

The current shortage and, above all, future needs, demand joint actions guided by clear and permanent policies,Nacion.com

Some 131,000 people will be seriously disadvantaged, 120,000 of them with outages of between four and six hours and another 11,000 in Alajuelita, with the most severe shortages, of up to eight hours. In addition, 360,000 inhabitants in the GAM could face a less severe rationing, less than four hours a day. The impact on quality of life and the economy will be enormous.

Over the past 10 years studies on water in Costa Rica have increased – at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars – with all of them noting the multiplicity and dispersion of institutions operating in this field. The Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA only controls 60% of the national supply. The Administrators of Aqueducts and Sewer Systems (Asadas) and 28 municipal water systems are responsible for the remaining 40% and are managed along a mixed criteria. There are more than 1,500 Asadas with very limited logistical and financial capabilities. Experts estimate that only 10% of them maintain adequate service and just six in ten operate at right … Amen to Asadas, municipal water and the AyA itself, other institutions such as the National Service of Groundwater, Irrigation and Drainage (Senara) and the Directorate of Water, at the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) have a say in decisions. A bill, criticized by the AyA and the Minae would also give prominence to the cooperatives.

Each of these dozens of water studies carried out in Costa Rica stresses the need to coordinate the conglomerate of responsible bodies, but it seems, from the results, that this is impossible. It is irrefutable that as long as responsibility for the water supply is not unified into a single national body, the problem will remain.”