The heart of Nosara, from which the town gets its name, is undergoing a major surgery. Its main artery is blocked and they say it gets into places where it shouldn’t. That’s what happened when an unexpected visitor named Tomas arrived in the country back in November of 2010, causing the heart of Nosara to overflow.
Between the 3rd and the 8th of November, 2010, Tropical Storm Tomas affected 246 families in Nosara, including Santa Marta and Santa Teresita. The Nosara River and adjacent streams flooded everyone who lived within 500 meters.
The community was already used to being flooded but never like with Tomas. The El Silencio bridge over Rio Frio collapsed, blocking traffic on Route 160. The way out through Ostional was blocked by the flooding of the Montaña River. The mountain pass through Zaragoza was impassable. People bought water and nonperishable food in supermarkets. Those who could crossed the unexpected lagoon caused by the creek overflowing by the Nosara gas station and stocked up on gasoline. The only pharmacy at that time was out of baby formula and some medicines. Planes canceled flights because the river had covered the runway. The heart of Nosara couldn’t handle it. It was going into cardiac arrest.
That’s when the specialists prescribed the treatment: a “bypass,” or rather, a new dike.
But the previous dike barely lasted long enough to bat an eye. According to the head surgeon at the time, Miguel Gallardo, president of the National Emergency Commission (CNE- Comision Nacional de Emergencias), the ¢140-million-colones (about $280,000 at the time) dike built in 2007 did not respect the natural flow of the river, so the flow of the river destroyed it.
But there can be a wide gulf between word and deed, and the new dike did not arrive until after the infamous Tomas showed up.
Former President Laura Chinchilla signed a declaration of national emergency that same November of 2010 and ordered the CNE to begin work immediately. The heart of Nosara would get its bypass.
But there is something, an important detail, that was not taken into account: exhaustive studies of how the river would end up after such work were never conducted, because it is not necessary to do environmental impact studies when an emergency has been declared by presidential decree. And the impact to the river is strong, maybe even permanent.
The new specialists, those who work for SENARA, consulted with other specialists from the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE- Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia) and even more specialists from the National System of Areas of Conservation (SINAC- Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion) to assess the potential environmental damage and approve the work. The inspections included conducting a walk along the riverbanks with the respective officials and analyzing hydrological and geological studies from the CNE. But you don’t have to be an expert to realize the outstanding environmental debt. Just seeing the riverbed in the areas that were worked on in the last two years from a distance, or from the air, you can see that the bypass is large, enormous, and that it left little or nothing of the nature that existed in this heart.
The consequences leave a bitter sweet taste— it is comforting to know that if another Tomas hits one day, the lives and homes of many Nosara residents will be safe, but it is sad to see that, for the most part, the natural beauty of this beautiful river is no longer there.
The damage is done and there is no turning back. Time will tell how severe the impact is on the river, its banks, its mangroves and its wildlife, but we believe that the CNE can take a step forward and begin to allocate funds to help the recovery of this heart that does not want to stop beating and that we do not want to stop listening to.