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.
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.