San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Save water, ban golf courses, says Costa Rican lawmaker

Broad Front Party legislator Suray Carrillo Guevara is drafting a water conservation bill that would ban golf courses in Costa Rica — both existing ones and those that are yet to be built.

The bill aims at solving water shortages affecting most of the country, but especially the Pacific provinces of Guanacaste and Puntarenas, which are facing severe drought.

Carrillo, a Guanacaste representative, said her home province is not the best place for building golf courses because it is the area facing the biggest water supply problems. “There are water supply problems at most provinces but currently there are 125 communities facing daily water shortages in Guanacaste alone,” she said.

According to the National Meteorological Institute (IMN), Guanacaste is facing a 65 percent rain deficit for the year.

Carrillo would not comment on the full contents of her proposal but she said it will include restrictions for tourism-related businesses, public agencies and citizens.

“My initiative is a law to enforce water-saving measures and includes proposals to eliminate water waste. The ban on golf courses is just one of them,” Carrillo said.

Drought: As tourism season approaches, Tamarindo needs a good shower

The legislator said many tourism megaprojects in Guanacaste have gardens filled with exotic plants brought from other continents that require large amounts of water to survive in Costa Rica’s climate. “That’s outrageous,” she said. “We have an enormous variety of beautiful plants here.”

Her bill also proposes measures to demand more citizen responsibility for conservation, as well as stricter requirements for granting building permits in watersheds.

“Municipalities are largely responsible for causing water shortages as they easily grant permits to companies without requiring from them any measures to protect natural resources,” Carrillo said.

The legislator said her initiative has the support of several community groups, mainly from Guanacaste, where she has publicly spoken about the idea.

Carrillo said she is still evaluating options for enforcing the proposed measures and all possible legal scenarios around the bill. She expects the first draft of the bill to be ready in two weeks for analysis by a special Legislative Committee that evaluates issues affecting Guanacaste.

“My proposal will be subject to discussion by all sectors involved in order to negotiate and seek agreements,” Carrillo said Wednesday, stressing that ultimately her goal is to reach an agreement to resolve the lack of water. “We have real water problems and the only important thing here is to decide what are we going to do about it,” she said.

Critic calls idea ‘dangerously polarizing’ between rich and poor

Although the drafting of the bill is still a work in progress, several sectors have already voiced their opposition to Carrillo’s initiative and scoffed at what they say is a typical manifestation of her party’s left-leaning ideology.

Costa Rican Hotels Chamber President Gustavo Araya Carvajal said these kinds of proposals “are dangerously polarizing the country between rich and poor, left and right, yes and no, and undoubtedly they will end up affecting the whole country.”

According to chamber data, golf courses create jobs for more than 2,000 families in Costa Rica and generate revenue of $260 million a year. Araya says hotels with golf courses have better water management practices than those required by public agencies.

“We strongly encourage lawmakers to invest their time — time that we all pay for with taxes — to draft bills supported by logical, scientific, economic or mathematical foundations,” the chamber said in a public statement.

National Tourism Chamber (CANATUR) President Pablo Abarca concurred, saying Carrillo’s proposal is based on ideological rather than technical grounds. “It is unnecessary to propose extreme measures such as banning golf courses,” Abarca said. “That will not solve water scarcity, as this is mostly a public infrastructure issue.”

According to research from CANATUR, 10 percent of tourists to Costa Rica play golf here.

“That 10 percent represents more than the increase in visitors recorded in the past two years. You can image the losses such a decision [banning courses] would bring,” Abarca said.

The Costa Rican Tourism Board reported earlier this year that Costa Rica recorded 2,5 million international arrivals in 2014 — a 4.1 percent increase over 2013. Revenues from the travel sector last year totaled $2.6 billion — an 8.3 percent increase over the $2.4 billion registered in 2013, according to figures from the Central Bank.

Guanacaste lawmakers Juan Marín Quirós, from the National Liberation Party and Johnny Leiva Badilla of the Social Christian Unity Party said this week that they will not support a bill that bans golf courses.

“These proposals to limit and prohibit businesses are irrational and they might affect the country’s image among both domestic and foreign investors,” Leiva said.

Marín believes banning golf courses would not help solve water shortages as long as thousands of people keep wasting water in their homes every day. “Most people do not practice any water-saving habits when they shower, do their laundry or any other domestic chores. The solution requires a broader perspective,” he said.

Costa Rica currently has 15 golf courses and the National Golf Association (ANAGOLF) hosts some 40 tournaments annually. About 60 additional competitions are organized by other groups and companies.

ANAGOLF Vice President Rodrigo Cordero Campos declined to comment directly on the initiative, saying the group’s board is currently gathering information on Carrillo’s proposal.

Cordero did say he personally believes such initiatives should take into account golf’s economic contribution to the tourism sector and the important social contributions that charity golf tournaments make.

“Golf is one of the sports that contributes the most to social causes in Costa Rica,” he said.

ANAGOLF hosts annual tournaments that raise funds for the National Children’s Hospital and its burn center, Cordero said, and for several associations that help disabled people. Another ANAGOLF tournament raises funds to donate a house to a poor family each year.

Cordero believes a ban on golf courses couldn’t be enforced and that lawmakers should take into consideration all the people and businesses linked to this sector.

“I have no doubt that lawmaker Carrillo has good intentions, but it seems that her motivations are beyond just the water scarcity issue. It seems that she is using golf as an excuse,” he said.

Lawmaker: Big tourism projects ‘do very little or nothing’ for communities

Carrillo defends her proposal and says her fight is not something new and that it’s not based on ideology. The lawmaker said she has been a community leader for many years and that she has been part of various iniciatives to demand the government to protect populations’ access to potable water since 1999.

“That was the time when the big tourism and agricultural projects boomed in the Pacific region. These are projects that are benefitting only their owners and do very little or nothing for the communities where they operate,” she said.

Carrillo said her assertion is confirmed by State of the Nation Program reports. “Annual reports from those years clearly noted that these projects lacked productive chains that benefitted the population,” she said.

This year, Guanacaste registered the biggest deficit in rainfall since the IMN began keeping records in 1937. The ongoing dry conditions have surpassed previous records registered in 1977.

Local meteorologists have stated that current conditions are influenced by an El Niño weather phenomenon and that its effects on temperatures will peak in December. Temperatures then will gradually begin to decline through approximately mid-2016, according to IMN forecasts.

Contact L. Arias at

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I imagine many, if not most Costa Ricans feel this way about Americans. I am American and not a typical one in any sense. I love Costa Rica and I am not wealthy, not financially secure in any way. I can only hope that Ms. Rochas and her fellow country men and women will give Americans a chance and not put me into that negative category. I don’t like or want to be near greedy Americans either. as I have nothing financial to gain by loving and admiring her country.

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Isabella Rocha

Buenos Dias!, Ticas like myself blame this on the Greedy Americans (mostly Americans) who get in cahoots with minority of Greedy Costarricans, or pay the politicians and built, mega hotels, golf courses, Madonald’s, and such things, displacing Costarrican families to build them.
Too many Americans in my country if you ask me!, and more and more the “ugly american” type; an excessive number of Americans here have made it more difficult for ordinary Costarricans to have an affordable lifestyle, everything has gone more way up than normally would, due to the demand from Americans to have their gringoland stuff with them ( i.e. golf courses). Comments like Mr. Ken Morris give me hope, because when Americans are criticized by their own peers is taken better than when Ticos like me do it.

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Ken Morris

As I have pointed out elsewhere, the Hotel Chamber’s own math shows that golf generates $130,000 for each local family it supports. Since it’s unlikely that the family support is greater on the average than around $12,000 per year, $118,000 of per family golf revenues are going somewhere other than to jobs. Add the analysis that these projects fail to spawn adjacent local businesses, and it looks like golf is not a very efficient generator of economic development for Costa Rica–and this is before its overconsumption of water is considered.

When the Hotel Chamber proceeds to charge that a bill banning golf courses lacks “logical, scientific, economic or mathematical foundations,” all it frankly needs to do is to look at its own math to realize how baseless this charge is.

Realistically, closing existing golf courses would probably have too destructive of a short term economic impact to be viable. However, a moratorum on future golf courses coupled with a phased in progressive tax on heavy water users might be good policy ideas. After all, logic, scientific, economic, and mathematical thinking shows that golf isn’t a very helpful industry for Costa Rica.

And so what if the tourism growth rate declines? Tourism has outlived its usefulness to Costa Rica as an economic generator and should be scaled back, or at minimum not increased.

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Bill Spears

Please name the number of jobs Carrillo has given that are not from the tax base. Ok, the tourism number is one thing. Now lets talk about the number of Gringos that have moved down to CR so they can spend their days playing Golf. How much money do they bring in from rents, building houses and living there. If 10% of the gringos leave cause they don’t have a course to play on, how does that impact the value of housing? Also with that many leaving, how many new houses will you need to build with a 10% oversupply of Gringo housing. Socialism works until the capitalists leave….And I am not a golfer…

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Ken Morris

I’d be curious to know how you reach the conclusion that gringo housing helps Costa Rica’s economy. I think the reality is exactly the opposite.

Since gringos are on the average wealthier than Ticos (and golfing gringos a lot wealthier) their presence drives up the price of housing. This is basic supply and demand, though in this case augmented by the greater gringo affluence. It’s also observable in heavily gringo-infested tourist towns like Jacó and Tamarindo. The Ticos aren’t living in the beachfront condos, but on the outskirts, and its not uncommon for Tico service workers in the tourism industry to have to commute fairly long distances to their jobs because they are priced out of the nearby housing market.

True, constructing the gringo housing does provide jobs for Ticos, but in the main these are low-wage manual labor jobs that, more importantly, end after the housing is built. Then, sure, there are some maid and maintenance jobs available, but these are hardly great jobs. Plus, the reality often is that Nicas work the construction and maid jobs, not the Ticos. The Ticos stand by and watch as one set of foreigners swaps big money around with each other and then even hires another set of foreigners to do the manual labor. There’s not much left for the Ticos, except collecting property taxes. Well sure, this helps with government revenues, but these aren’t the same as money that stimulates private industry development, and anyway the gringos clamor for ever more public services for their tax dollars. They’re always demanding more police protection, for instance.

And how else do gringo dollars help the economy? Well, gringos shop at grocery stores and go out to dinner, so there’s that, but once again, are Ticos really better off with jobs as stock clerks in grocery stores and dishwashers in restaurants over doing the fishing and farming they used to do, or better yet starting their own businesses and factories on the real estate that gringos have claimed for their resorts and even golf courses? And indeed, would the price of porch chops in the grocery stores be higher or lower if gringos weren’t buying them? Supply and demand tells us that the price of pork chops would be lower if gringos left.

Anyway, actually, if 10% of the golfing gringos left, housing prices would probably drop. Sure, some McMansions would be dogs on the market, but enterprising people could convert these into apartments affordable to Ticos. As noted, the short term economic dislocations caused by closing existing golf courses would probably be too great to go this route, but long term I see Ticos better off if 10% of the golfing gringos left, in part because their housing costs would decline (and they’d pay less for pork chops).

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I am not a golfer, so if you ban the courses or not is of little value to me. I do know that most modern golf courses have recovery systems for their water usage. That stated, instead of hiding your head in the sand(trap), why not correct a larger problem in Costa Rica. WATER MANAGEMENT. Water management here must be improved. Every wet season there is so much rain that many areas are flooded. There is little effort to capture this water for dry season needs. I reside above the Municipality of St. Barbara. Every year I watch the rain water flood the streets and then disappear down the drains. Then, every dry season we run short of water. I’ve been in this location for 10 years and have seen no improvement.
From what I have read on Global Warming, the rain here will increase and the dry season will have less moisture. 10 years ago, during the dry season there would be an afternoon shower of about 30 to 60 minutes each day; not anymore. With Global warming potable water will become a commodity. Wouldn’t it be wise to invest in that commodity for the future?

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