Sardinal Seeks Legal Alternatives To Block Extension of the El Coco-Ocotal Aqueduct

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The Constitutional Court ruled against an a writ of protection presented by residents of Sardinal de Carrillo that aimed once again to stop a project that would expand the El Coco-Ocotal aqueduct. The residents complained of a lack of government transparency and out-of-date studies.

Local residents are worried that further expansion will damage the aquifer to the point that it will become salinized, which has happened in other communities like Playa Panama and Playa Hermosa (in fact, part of the water would be delivered to these communities).

Their displeasure stems from, in essence, the same reason that brought them to file several writs of protection to stop the project in 2008: they allege that they are not clear on what rights that private business owners who will finance the project will have. The aqueduct will be developed in a public-private partnership.

However, the judges found that the current studies are adequate to guarantee the aquifer’s protection, clearing the way again for the Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (AyA) to continue with the project.

For residents opposed to the action, this is just another bump in the road and they will continue fighting if the institutions do not address their concerns.

Just after the decision’s announcement, the community protested and requested that the Ombudsman’s Office intervene. The request is currently being analyzed.

Gadi Amit, resident of Playa Panama and community leader, said that they might present a new writ of protection that asks the Court to respond to the rest of the allegations.

“In the Court’s resolution it says that we should turn to the Dispute Tribunal. For those of us who lack economic resources, this slams the doors of justice on the poor,” he said.

The History Is Cyclical

In 2008, the aqueduct would have been build by a trust comprised of 22 business owners and would remove 167 liters of water per second from Sardinal to carry it to El Coco and Playa Hermosa.

The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the complaintants in this case as it determined that no studies existed to ensure that exploitation on this scale would not damage the aquifer.

One year later, an investigation by the daily La Nación revealed that the company Cocowater, in El coco, had committed to the AyA to assume building the project in exchange for 5,000 water hookups.

Today, the AyA assures that it will only take 70 liters of water per second (enough to supply some 17,000 people in the coastal area) and in order to “guarantee this flow meters will be installed in the wells to verify the authorized use.”

However, residents have distrusted the plan since then. According to the president of AyA, today this relationship will be difficult to repair.

“You can give them all the information, participate, and have the most comprehensive studies and it will still be difficult to get them to change their opinion,” said Yamileth Astorga, Executive President of the organization, in response to the Court on the latest writ of protection presented by residents of Sardinal.

Another of the opposition’s arguments is that the studies used by institutions to back the project are out of date and do not meet the official methodology for the National Service of Underground Waters, Irrigation and Drainage (in Spanish, Senara) explained Amit, whose argument is based on a study by the lawyer, geologist, and environmentalist Allan Astorga. The geologist highlighted these issues after reviewing the studies.

In the face of these claims, the president of AyA responded to the Constitutional Court that the studies have been updated with well-monitoring and that the geologist did not have all of the documents when he analyzed the study.

For her, building the aqueduct used to be preventive but now is a necessity due to the water crisis in the region. Residents in opposition allege that they want to avoid irresponsible water consumption that could make the crisis greater.

Find the studies and sentences cited in the article here.