San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Water Wars

City officials finally promise relief to Cartago residents facing ongoing water shortages

Officials from the Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) and the Paraíso Municipality on Wednesday agreed to the first steps in addressing ongoing water shortages that in recent months have extended to two additional Cartago cantons.

Paraíso city officials presented the plan – which includes both short- and long-term actions – following a public demonstration on Tuesday night, when a group of residents disrupted a city council meeting to demand solutions for the water outages.

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, or Sala IV, last month ordered the city to take steps to solve its water-supply problems within 12 months. The Sala IV ruling responded to a complaint filed by Christian Democratic Alliance Party lawmaker Mario Redondo.

One of the first steps is the installation of two 350,000-liter water tanks and the drilling of new wells. The tanks will be filled in the next few days to begin providing water to the most-affected communities, officials said.

AyA Executive President Eduardo Lezama said drilling studies already have been completed, but the actual work and allocation of resources “depend entirely on the municipality.”

Paraíso officials also proposed the installation of water valves on some city pipes to control water flow according to a timetable based on supply.

Also, water permits for new housing projects in the canton will be blocked until the situation improves.

A larger effort to replace the city’s water infrastructure will be included in the municipal budget for next year, pending approval by the Comptroller General’s Office.

At the meeting this week, city sewer official Rodolfo Alvarado acknowledged that officials have no specific count of how many residents are affected by the water shortages, but studies will be conducted to determine the number. He added that officials would not wait for study results to begin taking short-term action.

Water wars

Water shortages in recent months have sparked conflicts between Cartago residents. According to the daily La Nación, municipal officials in the cantons of Paraíso, Oreamuno and Cartago Central are blaming each other for the problems their communities face.

Oreamuno officials recently said the Cartago Municipality is to blame for their reduced water supply, while Cartago countered with complaints to the Judicial Investigation Police over acts of “vandalism and sabotage.” Cartago said it had found evidence that its water had been illegally diverted to Oreamuno.

Paraíso and Oreamuno have a legal dispute at the Environment Ministry, with both cantons claiming the rights to aquifers located in the middle of the two.

AyA’s Lezama acknowledged the seriousness of the ongoing conflicts and said his agency would evaluate the infrastructure needs of each canton.

The best prospect for a definitive solution in Cartago — and the Greater Metropolitan Area — is AyA’s Orosi II project. Originally drafted in the mid-1990s, the plan calls for an expansion of Orosi I, which currently supplies 40 percent of water to San José and to some areas in Cartago and Paraíso.

In November 2012, AyA signed a working agreement with the Costa Rican Electricity Institute, which administers the reservoir from which Orosi I draws its water. AyA expects to complete a feasibility study for Orosi II in 2015, and construction will be completed by 2020, according to current plans.

Contact L. Arias at larias@ticotimes.net

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