Will Water Pollution in Costa Rica Continue to Go Unpunished?

Will Water Pollution in Costa Rica Continue to Go Unpunished?

A few days ago, the Environment Commission of the Legislative Assembly passed the draft Law 20,212 called: “Law for the Integrated Management of Water Resources”.

According to experts, the Law lacks substantive progress in the protection of water sources, not taking sufficiently into account the actions of overexploitation, hoarding and contamination. In this regard, they highlight that it lacks mechanisms for social participation in planning.

On this subject, in The Costa Rica News (TCRN), we decided to talk with Geographer Dany Villalobos, who was a member for five years of the Alliance of Communities in the Defense of Water Resources in Puntarenas and is currently President of the Costa Rican Federation for the Environmental Conservation:

Costa Rica has been considered as a very benefited country in many aspects, mainly in biodiversity, and its water … Until now, what has been needed to protect it?

Villalobos stressed that in order to protect water, it has taken quite a lot of struggle – the oscillating will mainly by the State Administration to correct gaps that exist not only in legislation, but in the administrative matter through the regulatory route or decrees, progress has stalled in the protection of our water resources, in the subject, for example, of rivers that are still exposed to exploitation of up to 90% in their flow, leaving several cases of rivers already totally dry by granting  permission to crop production that over-exploits the natural flow of these bodies of water and this is also related to a policy of contempt for environmental protection.

“In economic terms, water in Costa Rica, through the national administration or the water directorate, has very low prices; “Large producers are paying very low costs 12 cents for every cubic meter of water that is exploited to irrigate sugarcane, grass, rice, coffee or even for hydroelectric plants.”

Due to the low cost, there is a certain permissiveness for overexploitation because water is very cheap for people who make economic profits”.

According to the geographer Villalobos, in Costa Rica it is necessary for the state to develop policies of social participation in water control and a greater inclusion of the social and cultural criteria communities with respect to their water sources, for example, “we have cases like the fight against hydroelectric plants in the southern part of the country, where communities go to the water department when they learn that there is a convention that aims to extract 90% of the water from their rivers and hundreds of signatures are presented and they are not taken into account for the evaluators of the water management, who in the end, grant the concession as if nobody had said anything, that is part of the grave regulatory gaps.”

What would the Ecological Federation (Fecon) incorporate to the Water Law, for guaranteeing more definitive protection for our water resources?

“The Law should recognize the historical flaws that have dragged on since the twentieth century, the exclusion of communities in decision-making processes about water sources, and it is also required to create a binding body or mechanism for effective participation. Only the regional inhabitants know the local situations regarding water their water supply”.

“The water law needs that the precautionary principles be recognized directly, that the authorities or institutions immediately without entering into debates, or postponements, respond in a preventive manner and avoid irreversible damages by issuing permits where there is conflict; they can give space to evaluations from third parties, people who better defend the rights over our water resources,” he added.

What advantages would there be in providing definitive protection for our water resources?

Villalobos recalled that water is one of the main sources of the country’s natural wealth, “since we are a tropical country and I speak of wealth not only in economic terms, but in an already invaluable question of biodiversity, water must be appreciated fairly, it cannot be possible that the state continues giving away the water in quantities for inefficient uses with outdated technologies, irrigation by sprinklers, hydroelectric plants that get the most economic benefit with low costs, etc.”

Finally, he said that a comprehensive water protection law would give communities greater peace of mind because it can allow the development of sustainable economies. “We have raised the urgent need of water sources to be conserved and used sustainably with advanced technologies for rational and economical use, hopefully it will also serve to boost sustainable agriculture, to make a transition in production, definitely getting rid of over-exploitation that ends up benefiting large monocultures from transnational companies that use many harmful chemical pollutants, a situation that is very destructive.”

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