Comptroller Slams Water Agency

November 14, 2008

Coastal communities and tourist hubs in Guanacaste province are in danger of running out of water, with construction and commercial development sucking up more than the aquifer can supply, the Comptroller General’s Office (CGR) concluded in a new study that backs the arguments of environmentalists and advocates of sustainable growth.

The government agencies responsible for preventing such a catastrophe, meanwhile, have been woefully ineffectual, the Comptroller found.

The report, released Oct. 31, looked at water management and planning in the northwestern province of Guanacaste and the southern part of the NicoyaPeninsula, which is part of Puntarenas province.

“Guanacaste is experiencing an alarming shortage of potable water, a situation that originates in the … accelerated growth of hotel and real estate developments,” the Comptroller’s Office found.

The scathing report principally targets the Costa Rican Water and Sewer Institute (AyA), which is legally tasked with overseeing the care and use of water in the country.

It also criticized the Groundwater, Irrigation and Drainage Service (SENARA) and other agencies.

AyA has failed to adequately take stock of how much water is available in the different water tables supplying booming coastal communities, has failed to adequately plan for future growth and has not built up water infrastructure to keep up with demand, among other failures, the Comptroller’s Office reported.

While noting that AyA increased potable water coverage nationwide from 63.6 percent in 1989 to 98.6 percent in 2006, the report called the institute’s management “weak.”

Citing a recently completed but unpublished study of 15 of the nation’s most critical watersheds – areas where rain and groundwater drain to a stream or river, a portion of which enters the underground aquifers that supply drinking water – the CGR said the government and its water agencies lack an accurate idea of how much water is actually being pulled from these aquifers or how much is available.

The amount of water available in an aquifer, referred to as a water balance, is based on how much water flows in is being pulled out. The water balances for the 15 aquifers, which cover nearly all of Guanacaste, “were obtained with information on quantity and quality that is inadequate.”

In Guanacaste, the demand exceeds supply greatly in three watersheds. The NicoyaPeninsula is one of the driest parts of the country but has the most water under concession, the majority through wells, the CGR said.

Meanwhile, the aquifers of Tamarindo and Flamingo, two major tourism centers on the northern Pacific coast, are already experiencing saltwater intrusion, in which seawater replaces potable water in the aquifer as it is pumped. The same is also beginning to happen in nearby Brasilito, the report said.

In addition, “a great number of the wells sampled in the coastal area of Guanacaste showed fecal contamination,” according to the Comptroller’s report, which also criticizes AyA for failing to build or plan sewer systems.

“All of these situations reflect … the serious problem currently afflicting (the region) and that could complicate further,” the report concluded. AyA and the agencies involved, it added, must take “immediate actions” or risk serious consequences.

 

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