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Special Report
Last Updated: 05/22/2013
Regional Water Congress, City of Guápiles, Costa Rica
Jorge Tortós Barquero

Jorge Tortós Barquero reports on the main ideas, arguments, and visions shared and discussed in the recent Regional Water Congress held in the City of Guápiles, Costa Rica.


Regional Water Congress, City of Guápiles, Costa Rica

The Local Water Council (COLAGUA), of the Tortuguero Conservation Area in Costa Rica, has decided to hold a Regional Water Congress, in order to discuss key issues for water resources in the region, as adequate protection of aquifers and springs, and proper control of productive activities in the cantons of Guácimo and Pococ'.

The congress was organized with the support of Municipality of Pococ', and counted with participation of various local, regional and national actors, from different institutions, ministry officials, ASADAS (Rural associations for water management), private companies, NGOs, among others. The activity took place on Thursday, February 14 in the auditorium of the Court of Justice, in Guápiles, province of Limon. The motto has been that our aquifers require the participation of everyone, in order to discuss and seek solutions that allow future generations to enjoy water.

This paper has been prepared with the intention of bringing together the main ideas, arguments, and visions that have been shared and discussed in the Congress, in order to have them at hand for reference, while celebrating this moment, as one of the most relevant activities in terms of local water governance throughout Costa Rica.

Governance and management of water resources in the area

The inauguration has been held in an auditorium with an attendance of some 70 people –undoubtedly a historical day- , gathered to hear information about facts and characteristics of the Aquifer Guácimo-Pococ', shared by the two Caribbean counties named, and water resources in the area. For those who live and visit the region, it is visible that there is no longer an abundant amount of water, thus it becomes extremely necessary to protect water resources, stated Mr. Cliver Vega from Pococ' Municipality. Mr. Luis Zuniga of ACTO, drew a tale: if all of the world's water resources were contained in a single 200 L plastic container, what can we access as humans, would be simply a tablespoon of water, then, based on human reproduction and lack of environmental awareness, it is urgent the participation of all in relation to this "Crystal Gold". Mr. Zuniga himself was responsible for complementing the need expressed by the municipal official, regarding proper water management.

Jane Segleau, president of Local Water Council (COLAGUA) and a member of the Association for Sustainable Development of Atlantic Region (ASIREA), has emphasized that COLAGUA will do everything humanly possible to meet each one of the agreements that will emerge within the Water Congress, because it is compounded by the most fundamental local stakeholders, and therefore, they represent the active voice of the resource. In addition, Mrs. Segleau made a description of the plight of the region, where rivers “do not enjoy environmental benefits of trees”, there is a growing trend among conflicts in pursuit of economic development in detriment of natural resources, it exist a situation of insufficient protected areas, regulatory plans of municipalities are not respected nor undertakes to respect, etc. Strong reasons to demand corrective and compensatory measures as Payment for Environmental Services (PSA) in strategic areas, communal care proposals of resources; nevertheless, the most important element she had mentioned was lack of the long-term visions that consider mechanisms of control and fair punishment , evidently, the institutions are required to have a high level of commitment in order to ensure their responsibilities, furthermore, private enterprise should be committed to sustainable development as well. As a highlight of her segment, has been said: "The health of the aquifers is our health."

Potential Impacts of development of Hydropower Projects.

After, on February 14, a heated and enriching conversation took place around the development of hydropower projects, with the participation of private sector, local government, and the academy. The first speaker was Ronald Gonzalez of Parismina Hydroelectric Project, where he exhibited the engineering and the dynamics of the dam, declaring it as a small project within the family of the Hydroelectric projects, but an environmentally conscious one. It proposes to take water from Parismina River and Parisminita for electricity, then reintegrate on a pipeline about three kilometers below the original take; in addition, declared the intention to live in harmony with neighboring communities, where some 11 500 families will benefit from electricity. Mr. Gonzalez emphasizes the obtaining of international green certificates under the Kyoto Protocol, while continuing other models such as the Cooperative COOPELESCA. Finally, he responded kindly to questions provided by the audience.

The second speaker in this section was researcher Osvaldo Duran, of the Latin American Network against Dams and for Rivers, their Communities and Water, who has begun by saying "the water of a river remains pure because it is in motion"; his position was emphatically against Hydropower. He claimed that electricity growth simply as a pillar of development is unsustainable. In addition, it is presumed that private projects have been established under corrupt policies; even more, inside the country the notion of “clean and green energy” is no more than a false myth since there is no democratic model of energetic production. Duran further emphasized that Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) has tended to benefit large private companies -in many cases pertaining to traditional political class- in addition to indicate the audience that electrical producing companies should give comprehensive conservation plans instead of simple details such as nurseries or minimal social responsibility, in order to maintain a real level of sustainability.

Maria Elena Mora, an employee of University of Costa Rica in the Legal Consultation Offices, started narrating about how the legal framework for private generation gives private shelter to hydroelectric projects, followed by conceptualization where the environment also includes economic and cultural elements. She mentioned several aspects, such as 80% of country's water resources allocated to electricity; when ICE first suffered a setback due to a judicial process because the high environmental impact of their actions on the community of Peñas Blancas in San Ramon (actually they provoked a total destruction of the biodiversity of the river); another clear statement has been nonexistent green agenda of the current government regarding solid actions, since we have major legal environmental control problems (the attorney indicate existence of some 750 environment-related laws, where the main to water dates from the 50's); Mora finished by proclaiming that Costa Rica is no longer a regional pioneer in the environmental field.

Erlinda Quesada, councilwoman in Guácimo, referred to two historical events, one was the cantonal referendum for hydroelectric plant in Jimenez and the other one about a Free Trade Zone (with echo in those who faced them), then advocating in the mentality of City Council for future generations. The Councilor has been critical about pineapple, against private projects that are in detriment to social and individual rights, and indicates in her lecture that the South Zone of Route 32 is already in a fragile environment. Mr. Eladio Retana Guácimo, a local council member as well, was regretful because communities are always the last to learn about projects that often have an impact on their own resources, so he believes that local governments should take the responsibility in this dynamic; in another statement, he advocates for watershed planning as considered an optimal model of water resources.

Information for a Protective Strategy on Water Sources

The next segment was initiated with the inclusion of Mr. Ismael Martinez, from the National Water Union of Grecia (UNAGUAS), where the representative spoke with pride of the birth of his organization in order to protect water, in times where that action seemed the only way to create voice and awareness to public and private sector; since water can be a clear engine of development if used intelligently. The event´ next section had Mrs. Maureen Ballesteros, from Foundation for Sustainable Development of the Central Volcanic Cordillera (FUNDECOR) who lectured on the National Water Agenda, which is a country-level project aiming to cover major efforts with environmental and water authorities, for the sake of establish a clear direction of Costa Rica in terms of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). The Agenda takes certain diagnoses and evaluations that are carried out in other congresses and conferences, while presented a broader image of surface waters and aquifer´s reality, along as policies for protection and regulation of water bodies. Mr. Moises Bermudez, from Costa Rica´s Aqueducts and Sewers (AyA), participated with technical criteria on territorial management -using a geospatial approach- as a necessary part for adequate water supply to population. AyA already uses a very comprehensive database, which is already of municipalities knowledge; Bermudez expects Local Governments to act in accordance their recommendations. From his institution, they look forward an individual hydrogeological study to be done in each water spring, under purpose to see actual catchment area -for future protection- and will provided as well, advice to ASADAS in this regard.

The professor from La Rita High School, in Guápiles, Oscar Bello gave a lesson on project GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefits the Environment) using images of his students´ school who have worked making simple measurements of water quality using the method of macroinvertebrates and simple equipment, in the scope of acquire technical skills in water analysis.

Congress Agreements

Proposals:

  1. It is requested vehemently to Municipalities and Municipals Councils of Guácimo and Pococ', a prompt approval of respective proposals for regulatory plans.
  2. Among MINAET, AyA, ASADAs and respective municipalities, to keep aquifers lanes and limits cleaned and labeled, in order to maintain the security thereof. That is, keep clean demarcation of limits Guácimo-Pococ' Aquifer.
  3. Regional Water Congress takes all necessary measures for the approval of the constitutional reform, the new Water Act, and the Rural Water Supply Act.
  4. That the municipalities of Pococ' and Guácimo would not approve any hydroelectric projects in the area, without discussion and approval of communities.
  5. Create a Bi-cantonal Water Policy among Pococ' and Guácimo, to be a part of both institutions regular work.
  6. Request to UCR Social Legal Consultants a lawyer to attend community´s consultations.
  7. That State´s competent institutions apply the information generated by various technical studies already made, as a tool to promote water protection. The municipalities should take studies by AyA as a basis for analysis, in cases of approval land use permit.
  8. Continue the pending administrative procedures to increase the protected area around Guácimo-Pococ' Aquifer.
  9. That FUNDECOR and MINAE accelerate their work process in the Biological Corridor Guácimo-Pococ' Aquifer.

Jorge Tortós Barquero is an M.A. Candidate in Environmental Security and Peace at the University for Peace.


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