Everyone who uses water pays, each quarter, a tax to finance the protection of the nation’s water supply, but in Guanacaste there are 1,083 farmers who don’t pay it because, for 13 years, Senara hasn’t charged them. The tax revenue goes to the Ministry of Energy and Environment (Minae).
Minae’s water department says that state missed out on almost $1 million between 2006, when the tax began, and 2016 because it hasn’t been charged.
In 2017, the Office of the State’s Attorney said that Senara (The National Subterranean Water Service) should charge the tax because they are the institution overseeing the Arenal Tempisque Irrigation District, where the farmers who aren’t paying the tax live. But they still haven’t done it.
That doesn’t mean that the farmers don’t pay anything for using water: they do pay for the water they receive from Senara through irrigation channels, but Senara doesn’t charge them the tax.
Institutions in Disagreement
Senara, the entity that should charge the tax, according to the State’s Attorney, and Minae, which receives the tax, haven’t reached an agreement.
Deputy director general of Senara Mauro Angulo says that his institution and the consumers in the district shouldn’t be responsible for paying the tax.
“Senara’s creation was well before Minae. At the time, Senara was told that it could create and manage irrigation districts. Minae created the tax after that, but no changes were made to Senara’s law indicating that it has to coordinate with the ministry,” Angulo said.
Water director José Miguel Zeledón has a different opinion. He says that not charging DRAT farmers creates unequal conditions with respect to farmers who live outside that district and do pay the tax.
“While some pay for the water they use, others don’t pay anything and use a lot of water,” Zeledón said during an interview with this newspaper.
Another opponent to the tax is the president of the Cañas headquarters for the national union of small and medium-sized farmers (Upanacional), Gerardo Carballo.
According to Carballo, his group has 17,000 affiliates across the country. Farmers from Cañas, Abangares and Bagaces that belong to DRAT district, are registered at the Guanacaste headquarters.
For Carballo, the water tax is “high” and paying it affects the productivity of small and medium-sized farmers in the district.
In the sector, every 105 cubic feet of water costs a quarter of a cent, according to the rate published in 2019 by the Water Department
The amount must be paid by each farmer, multiplying the 105 cubic feet used by the cost of each one, according to the decree establishing the tax.
For example, 2.5 acres of planted cantaloupe require about 1 million cubic feet of water per year, according to Zeledón. If we use the amount per cubic foot, each cantaloupe farmer should pay roughly $75 per year per acre of crop.
But not all farmers are totally opposed. The head of the environmental department for Azucarera El Viejo Laura Agüero confirmed that the possible implementation of the tax and that they wouldn’t oppose it, but they do believe it affects production.
“Any additional cost wouldn’t be the best thing for production, but if the government decides to charge it, we would be respectful of what they decide,” Agüero said.
Why Don’t They Pay?
Initially, Senara, as the water manager in the irrigation district, took on the payment of all the consumers and transferred the money to Minae. But after 2010, they stopped paying it.
This year, the institution’s attorney reviewed the law that created Senara and said that it’s not their responsibility to continue paying the tax, according to Angulo.
In 2017, Minae asked the State’s Attorney who is responsible for paying the tax. The State’s Attorney stated in resolution C-218-2017 that the institution shouldn’t pay the tax “out of its own pocket” but should charge farmers and transfer that money to Minae.
Senara’s deputy director said in July that they would ask the Public Services Regulatory Authority (Aresep) how to charge farmers the tax. But according to Aresep’s press officer Carolina Mora, they haven’t received this petition from Senara.
Everyone who receives water pay the tax the DRAT farmers don’t pay. The money goes to Minae, which invests it in water conservation projects across the country.
Zeledón says not receiving the money from DRAT decreases public water investment in the province. Between 2016 and what is projected for 2019, Minae estimates that it received almost $39 million in revenue from this tax from the rest of the country.
“Everything that has to do with conservation, measurement and monitoring of water is decreased. One example is in Tilarán which is in the Arenal basin. We want to protect it but we haven’t been able to provide enough money,” Zeledón said.
Everything that has to do with conservation and monitoring of water is decreased”. José Zeledón, Minae.
For the director of water, the conflict is between Senara and Minae and farmers shouldn’t be blamed, but, he argues, without the tax, companies in the DRAT are functioning “illegally.”
Environment Minister Carlos Manuel Rodríguez agrees, but a Minae statement says that they will take legal measures against farmers if Senara doesn’t tax them.
“We value opening a process to stop them from using water. If they don’t obey, we could accuse them of disobeying authority or for stealing water,” Zeledón said.
Angulo, deputy director of Senara, said that they measure Minae seeks to take is “very irresponsible”: if Minae wins a legal process to stop them from using water, it would leave farmers without work and damage irrigation canals in the district.
“What would we do with all the water that is in the Cañas reservoir? Would we send it ot the rivers and not put any water in the channels? If that happens, it would damage the canal structures,” Angulo said.