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Contaminated Drinking Water in San José Central Valley: Urgent Concerns and Complex Challenges

Costa Rica's San José Central Valley is grappling with a pressing issue – the contamination of drinking water in certain districts, amplifying concerns about public health and environmental sustainability. At the heart of the problem lies the vulnerability of aquifers, particularly the Barba and upper Colima aquifers, which collectively supply water to approximately 20% of the national population.


Faucet with dirty drinking water coming out.
Dirty tap water

The Unseen Threat: Barba Aquifer Contamination


The Barba aquifer, a vital water source for Heredia and the San José Metropolitan Area, is facing significant threats due to human activities. A documented case, such as the contamination of well AB-1089 in Barreal de Heredia, highlights the real and immediate dangers associated with groundwater pollution. Diesel leaked from a nearby fuel station's storage tanks, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to safeguard water quality.


Aquifer Characteristics and Susceptibility to Contamination


The Barba aquifer, as it releases water into the lava layers of Colima, exhibits high hydraulic conductivity, facilitating the rapid transmission of groundwater. However, this very characteristic, combined with high infiltration rates, renders the aquifer more vulnerable to contamination. The swift movement of groundwater, under these conditions, allows pollutants to migrate rapidly through the aquifer system, intensifying the risk of pollution.


Invisible Threats: Contamination Plumes and the Irreparable Damage


Unlike surface water contamination, groundwater pollution is often invisible to the naked eye. This poses a significant challenge, as contamination events might go unnoticed until the damage is nearly irreparable. Contamination plumes within aquifers describe the migration of pollutants through the underground water system, emphasizing the need for continuous monitoring and swift remediation efforts to protect public health and the environment.


Hydrocarbon Contamination: GRO and DRO Risks


The contamination of groundwater with gasoline range organics (GRO) and diesel range organics (DRO) amplifies the environmental and health risks. These hydrocarbons, consisting of volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, undergo natural attenuation and microbial degradation processes within the groundwater. The breakdown, however, depends on various factors such as environmental conditions and the extent of contamination.


Remediation Challenges and Urgency


Addressing contaminated groundwater demands proactive remediation efforts. Techniques such as bioremediation, soil vapor extraction, and pump-and-treat systems are common approaches, but their effectiveness hinges on factors like soil and groundwater conditions. Urgent measures are essential to accelerate the breakdown of contaminants and prevent further harm to the drinking water supply.


Conclusion: Navigating Complex Interactions for Solutions


The contaminated drinking water situation in San José Central Valley underscores the complex interactions between environmental factors and the need for prompt and professional remediation. Preserving the integrity of aquifers is paramount for safeguarding public health, and collaborative efforts are essential to navigate the intricacies of these challenges. A comprehensive and immediate response is not just a necessity but a duty to ensure a sustainable and safe water supply for the affected districts.

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