San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Supremes Back Coastal Activists

Water rights activists on the northern Pacific coast are cheering a recent high court order that stops construction of new wells around the beach towns of Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, Playa Panama, Ocotal and Sardinal.

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) also ordered the government to begin studies of the “highly vulnerable” water tables to assess just how much water is available and how much can be handed out to the booming communities and developments in the area.

“This basically ratifies (what we have been saying about) both the coastal water problem of too much demand, and the disorder of unplanned, out-of-control development,” said Gadi Amit of the Guanacaste Brotherhood Association.

Amit and the association, a sustainable rights organization, filed the injunction with Sala IV 19 months ago, asking it to prohibit municipalities from awarding any more construction permits until it is clear how much water is available (TT, March 30, 2007). The court rejected the latter request but has yet to release the full text of its ruling explaining the decision.

Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, Ocotal and Playa Panama are a series of popular beach towns that have seen rapid tourism development that has outpaced infrastructure in recent years.

Unplanned development has sapped the local water supply to the point where communities have been forced to ration water, and some local governments have been forced to stop awarding construction permits.

President Oscar Arias’ administration and some developers from the region have blamed a lack of infrastructure, not water supply. Earlier this year, developers began construction on a controversial $8 million aqueduct that would draw water from the small, inland village of Sardinal to supply the coastal development projects.

People in Sardinal clashed with police in violent protests in May as the pipeline neared their community, and community organizers said the pipeline lacked permits and planning and threatened to leave them dry in order to appease rich, mostly-foreign developers.

The issue made headlines across the country, and investigations have found a series of irregularities with the project, forcing its suspension (TT, June 20).

Amit, an outspoken critic of the project, said the ruling, while not directly addressing the Sardinal pipeline project, helped them build their argument.

“This is built brick by brick. This is another brick,” he said.

Responding to a letter from Sardinal activists, Environment Minister Roberto Dobles wrote early last month that the government is studying Sardinal’s water table and preparing a report on water availability and development in the region that would be presented to the community for comment.


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