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Costa Rica's Water Crisis: A Nation at Risk

Updated: Mar 5

Dirking Water Contamination
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Costa Rica, renowned for its lush rainforests and abundant natural resources, faces a looming threat: the contamination and depletion of its vital water sources. While the nation boasts an impressive annual water renewal of over 110 km³, with 73 km³ flowing as surface runoff and 37 km³ naturally recharging aquifers, mismanagement threatens this delicate balance.

Underground Peril

Groundwater serves as the primary source of drinking water for 70% of Costa Ricans. However, this crucial resource faces several challenges. A comprehensive assessment is urgently needed to understand factors like recharge rates, water extraction, regional availability, and susceptibility to contamination. Climate change further complicates the issue, potentially reducing precipitation in certain areas and hindering aquifer recharge.

Contamination Concerns

Evidence of widespread aquifer contamination in Costa Rica is undeniable and likely to escalate as more cases come to light. Systematic studies of subsurface water deposits by both academic institutions and water management authorities are crucial to fully understand the gravity of the situation.

Saline Intrusion: A stark example is the saline intrusion observed in Guanacaste's coastal zone since the 1990s. Overexploitation of the Flamingo aquifer, fueled by tourism and real estate development, has led to salinization of wells, requiring relocation further inland. Similar salinization threats are evident in Coco, Brasilito, and several other coastal areas, leading to well closures and sporadic salinity spikes during dry seasons.

Central Valley Woes: The Barba aquifer in the Central Valley has been under siege for decades due to human activities. Agrotec Analytical Laboratories documented seasonal contamination with various pollutants in numerous wells since the late 1990s. Similarly, environmental monitoring wells associated with the new international airport project have consistently tested positive for contaminants, raising concerns about the potential impact on the region's densely populated areas. While most cases remain under the radar, the Barreal de Heredia case, where well AB-1089 was found to be heavily contaminated with diesel exceeding safe limits, underscores the seriousness of the issue.

The Culprits: Urban expansion and agricultural practices are significant contributors to aquifer contamination. Studies highlight the threat posed by current coffee fertilization practices and the lack of proper wastewater disposal systems in rapidly urbanizing areas. Similar concerns exist in agricultural regions of the Caribbean, already facing controversies over organic compound contamination linked to their production systems.

Un Llamado a la Acción

La crisis hídrica de Costa Rica exige una acción inmediata y decisiva. Una evaluación exhaustiva, junto con regulaciones más estrictas y prácticas de gestión mejoradas, es esencial para proteger este recurso vital. Las campañas de concientización pública y el compromiso con el desarrollo sostenible son cruciales para garantizar un futuro hídrico seguro para las generaciones venideras.


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