President Oscar Arias announced Tuesday the launching of a National Plan for the Integral Management of Water Resources to centralize and focus the nation’s water management. Part of this plan is a new water-use fee that goes into effect Aug. 1 and will increase the cost of water to concession holders by as much as 8,000% to fund the resource’s protection and conservation.
“Over the last decade, we have been witnesses to a progressive degradation of our water resources and a marked deterioration in the basins of our principal rivers,” Arias said. “The healthy and sustainable management of water requires not only a decided public action, but also, more than anything, intense coordination between multiple state agencies.”
The Costa Rican government has been working on this plan since 2002 and its launch was attended by the President, as well as the former Environment and Energy Minister, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, and the current Minister, Ricardo Dobles.
The launch signals the beginning of a planning phase in which the government – headed in the effort by the Environment and Energy Ministry (MINAE) – will begin to take stock of what composes Costa Rica’s water resources and plan for their sustainable use, said Maureen Ballestero, a legislator with the National Liberation Party (PLN) and president of the Legislative Assembly’s Environment Commission.
During the six-hour conference that marked the launch, representatives of government agencies, businesses and non-governmental organizations met in work groups to hammer out various aspects of the plan.
“We are just starting to build this, but we cannot use a resource that we do not know,” Ballestero said.
What are already defined, she said, are two initial steps: the “modernization” of Costa Rica’s water concession registry and a new, “environmentally adjusted” water-use fee.
According to José Miguel Zeledón, the head of MINAE’s Water Department, the modernization of the water concession registry entails centralizing the information and making applications, billing and access to the information available online. This modernization would be financed over six years with funds from the Inter-American Development Bank and proceeds from the water-use fee.
The water-use fee, Zeledón said, is expected to bring in $7-10 million over seven years, money that will be reinvested in the water plan. The increase was originally decreed by the former Environment Minister last year (TT, Sept. 2, 2005), and scales up the price of water by as much as 8,000%.
This increase, however, is not as large as it seems, as water users now pay only fractions of a penny for the resource.
“This (fee) should be seen as an investment, not an expense,” Zeledón said.
According to Ballestero, the plan will continue to be defined over the course of the year.