A project for a new water law tries to break through in Costa Rica after 78 years, in a context in which the water resource is increasingly valuable and in which there is criticism from environmental sectors for alleged setbacks in the text on the management and protection of the resource.
The bill for the Integrated Management of Water Resources is currently in the Legislative Plenary where it could be voted on in the coming days.
The current Water Law has been in force since 1942 and after years of attempts to promote new legislation, apparently there is political viability for the advancement of a text that, according to the Government, modernizes the management and protection of this resource.
The initiative toughens the fines for polluting or damaging tributaries in accordance with an order that classifies offenses as minor, serious and extremely serious.
In addition, the text establishes protection zones around springs, the banks of rivers, streams or lakes, natural and artificial reservoirs built by the State.
In those protected areas, whose extension varies according to the tributary, it will also be prohibited to cut trees.
The initiative also establishes that the State must reenact the law every 10 years, with reviews midway through that period, a National Water Resource Plan that guides actions to guarantee the quality, protection and supply of water.
Good environmental practices
The project promotes the creation of benefits for clean energy projects and good environmental practices, and also creates a fee for those who have concessions for the use of water.
The coordinator of the Socio-environmental Kiosks Program of the University of Costa Rica, Mauricio Álvarez, said that the law “has advances and new tools when it comes to managing conflicts,” but regretted that “there is no social counterweight for effective control.”
According to the environmental leader, the project creates “a void of power in the National Water Directorate” that takes away the participation of community and social organizations that are currently carrying out control tasks, mainly in rural areas.
“The latest environmental laws have had serious compliance problems because the State has little capacity to control. The law, for more tools or more modern equipment that may be presented, is a dead letter in the face of a reality that it is the communities that are managing the daily life of the defense and management of water, especially in rural areas, ”Álvarez said.
According to the environmentalist, if this law is approved “the resource situation will not change much” and assured that there are “powerful sectors that do not want a new law.”
Álvarez did emphasize that this initiative does not privatize the resource and confirms the extension of the protection zones around springs and other bodies of water.
Right of access to water
The Government has stated that the project maintains the public domain of water, ratifies access to water as a human right and also recognizes the economic, social and cultural value of the resource as tools to improve management and conservation.
The version of the Executive also ensures that the initiative strengthens the Water Directorate and transforms it into the National Water Directorate, and provides it with better instruments to monitor the good use of water resources, avoid pollution processes and monitor the impacts of climate change.
“This project gives the country a series of modern tools to better manage the water resource. We have a law from the 1940s where we did not have the type of information or technological instruments that we have now, ”said Environment Minister Andrea Meza.
The official explained that the current law dates from a time when it was believed that water was an inexhaustible resource.
“Today, recognizing that it is a resource that is depleted and with threats such as climate change, it is important to update the way we manage and take care of such a precious resource, vital for economic reactivation and for different productive uses,” she added.