There is not a water shortage in Guanacaste. Wells registered for human use have a capacity to supply 8.7 times more than the daily water needed for every resident of the province.
That is the conclusion reached by an interdisciplinary team formed by The Voice of Guanacaste, following the analysis of data for the 5,135 wells registered with the National Service for Subterranean Water, Irrigation and Drainage (SENARA – Servicio Nacional de Aguas Subterráneas, Riego y Avenamiento) that are located in Guanacaste.
Of these 5,135 wells, 2,996 (58%) were registered for various categories of human consumption: domestic use, urban use, public services and subscribers. The categories of tourism and irrigation were not included.
SENARA is a public institution through which every well in the country is registered.
Comparing Guanacaste’s population and the average consumption per person of 187.3 liters per day (according to data from the Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers or AyA – Acueductos y Alcantarillados) with the amount of water that could be produced every day by the wells– 530 million liters– there would be 470 million liters more than necessary for human needs. To visualize how much water that is, imagine 188 Olympic-sized pools per day.
Regardless of the fact that there is enough water for everyone, Guanacaste has problems supplying this precious liquid to its residents, and there are several battles – many of them on court – that residents face. What then is the cause of this water war? It is possible that a good part of the water is being used for purposes other than those for which they are registered, the infrastructure is in poor conditions, or the wells are simply not being use at maximum capacity.
Tourist sector consumption is inadequately recorded
One of the most surprising facts from the analysis is that only 5% of the existing wells (260) in Guanacaste were registered for tourism, despite being the province with the second largest tourism industry in the country.
Some 716,000 tourists arrived to the airport in Liberia alone between August of 2012 and August of 2013. According to data from the 2011 Census, Guanacaste has 322,916 residents, which means that 58% of wells are for 322,916 people and 5% are for 716,000 tourists.
According to SENARA, the district that produces the most liters of water for human consumption is Sardinal de Carrillo. Every day, the 563 wells in Sardinal produce 60.7 million liters of water, supposedly for domestic human consumption. Regardless, the district only has 14,912 residents that only consume 2.8 million liters per day, leaving an extra 57.9 million liters daily.
The wells registered for touristic use in the district have the capacity to produce 13 million liters of water per day. Sardinal is also the district with the most wells in the province, including districts that include the cities of Liberia (441 wells) and Nicoya (282).
One of the most severe water-related conflicts in the country happened in Sardinal in 2008 when tourism developers had the idea to build a system in Sardinal to supply water to Playas del Coco and Ocotal. The project was budgeted at $8 million. The community openly opposed the project, believing that they would be left without water. The disagreement has involved the General Comptroller of the Republic, the Ombudsman and the Constitutional Court.
Agriculture and Livestock are the sectors with highest consumption
SENARA’s data show that agriculture and livestock are the second highest use for which wells are registered, with 1,346 wells that produce some 595 million liters per day. That is the highest production in the province.
In Guanacaste, crops like sugarcane, rice, beans and corn account for the majority of agricultural production. Water consumption for agriculture is divided by the kind of crop and, according to the Department of Water of the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE ), rice needs the most water.
Livestock was the province’s star economic activity until pastures were replaced by reforestation and tourism. On average, Guanacaste is home to at least 323,700 cattle. For every cow slaughtered, 3,000 liters of water are used.
Inequality and deficit
Focusing on the ten districts that have a deficit between the amount of water produced for domestic used and the amount that is needed, it stands out that five of them are in the canton of Tilaran. The districts of Arenal, Tronadora, Quebrada Grande, Libano and Tilaran lack 1.2 million liters of water per day to supply their 19,640 residents.
The registry of wells for human use in those areas does not agree with the diagnostic that AyA presents regarding the real access that citizens have to the precious liquid.
According to a report on unequal access to potable water from July of 2012, the cantons to which those five districts belong guarantee access to 99.9% of their residents. In addition, they are classified as districts with very little inequality.
A local look at Nosara, Samara and Nicoya
AyA classifies the districts of Nosara, Samara and Nicoya as totally unequal regarding access to water for human consumption; however, the registered wells in those areas for human consumption produce much more than what the population needs.
In Nosara, for example, 18.5 million liters of water are produced daily above and beyond what the 4,912 residents need. The difference represents 7.5 Olympic-sized pools that are used for other necessities, since the population only needs 920,000 liters.
Despite having a lot of tourism development, wells producing just 1.7 million liters of water per day are registered for the sector. According to the SENARA registry, 74% of the water produced by those wells is used for domestic human use however the production of water for use in tourism only represents 6% of all water generated in Nosara.
Samara’s case is similar. With a population of 3,512 residents, wells there registered for human consumption are able to supply the 658,000 liters that the people need. Moreover, they produce 5.9 million liters more daily. Of the entire production of water in Samara, only 8% is registered for the tourism sector.
Nicoya’s case is even more accentuated. In a district that AyA considers completely unequal with regard to access to water, there are 282 registered wells that produce 32.6 million liters daily. That is more than enough to supply the nearly 4.6 million liters needed by its 24,833 residents to live each day.
In Nicoya, Samara and Nosara only 77% of people have access to potable water, according to AyA’s evaluations. In Guanacaste, 84.3% of inhabitants have that access. According to AyA, all of Nicoya’s districts provide unequal water access to its residents.