At the end of November, the Sewers and Aqueduct Institute (AyA) relaunched the construction of the Sardinal-El Coco-Ocotal aqueduct despite opposition from a group of Sardinal residents. The project seeks to supply these three communities with water from the Carrillo canton, but for many residents there are inconsistencies in the studies presented by AyA about how environmentally sustainable the project really is.
In order to explain the conflict, The Voice of Guanacaste compiled seven events that have occurred regarding this project.
1. THE FINANCING
In 2008, a fund among 22 business owners was set up to finance the construction of the aqueduct. This triggered alarm in Sardinal residents who considered that the works would benefit the large developers in El Coco and Ocotal communities. AyA recognizes that part of the aqueduct was built with this fund and that the private companies donated the land, a tank and pipes, but insists that currently the project is public, financed, built and administered by the institution.
2. ENVIRONMENTAL VIABILITY
The environmental viability study by the National Technical Environmental Secretariat (Setena) dates back to 2008 when AyA tried to start construction for the first time, but in 2009 the Constitutional Court annulled the study and halted the project. Currently AyA justifies the capacity of the aquifer with that same environmental viability study and with hydrogeological studies performed monthly by the Interinstitutional Technical Committee (CTI) – made up of the National Underground Water, Irrigation and Drainage Service, the Ministry of the Environment and Energy (Minae) and the University of Costa Rica (UCR – which analyzes and confirms that the aquifer has the necessary capacity for the project. In a decision this year, (ruling 2017-001163) the Constitutional Court ruled that the project had the necessary studies to be move forward.
3. CONFRONTATIONS AND COMPLAINTS
AyA filed three complaints with the Santa Cruz public prosecutor’s office for the incidents on November 30 when a group of residents closed Sardinal’s Technical Association where AyA was going to present the hydrogeological studies done by CTI. They also filed a complaint for the events of Tuesday, December 5 when 60 Sardinal residents showed up at the spot where the project is to be built and ended up in confrontations with the anti-riot police. That Tuesday, some residents threw rocks and damaged machinery and cars that belong to AyA while the National Police, which was guarding the project on a daily basis, launched tear gas. On Monday December 18, a court expanded the precautionary measures against protesters, which impedes them from threatening or assaulting police officers. The Santa Cruz public prosecutor’s office must now conduct an investigation of the events to determine if the residents who have charges filed against them must face criminal sanctions.
4. RESIDENT CONCERNS
The group of Sardinal residents that oppose the AyA project claim that using the Sardinal aquifer will end up salinating it and they fear that, in the future, their community will lose its water supply. They also question the size of the pipes which are designed to take more than the 70 liters per second allowed by AyA. To monitor this, the institution will install meters to measure the flow. What residents want is for works to be stopped until a consensus is reached among all the parties involved. AyA has said that there can be no delays in construction because of the urgency of the aqueduct.
5. OMBUDSWOMAN’S INTERVENTION
The National Ombudswoman Montserrat Solano met on December 11 with groups opposed to and in favor of the aqueduct construction. After the meeting, an agreement was reached that residents and AyA will designate a mediator so that all parties involved in the conflict can have a dialogue, determine conditions such as not affecting the continuity of works and make it a priority that water from the aqueduct is for the benefit of the communities. The Ombudswoman will observe this process.
6. ARCHAEOLOGICAL REMAINS IN THE ZONE
The National Museum dispelled claims made by residents and members of the Committee for the Defense and Conservation of Sardinal’s Water about the discovery of archaeological remains on the site where the Sardinal-El Coco-Ocotal aqueduct will be built. Before works began and during construction, AyA worked alongside archaeologist Ifigenia Quintanilla, who has supervised the project and made sure that there are no remains or destruction of any archaeological patrimony.
7. THE PROJECT
According to AyA, the Sardinal aquifer has the capacity to produce 440 liters per second, of which only 70 will be used. The project, which costs ¢1,730 billion colons ($3 million), is expected to benefit 34,000 people in the communities of Sardinal, El Coco and Ocotal over the next 25 years. The project is expected to be complete in the second quarter of 2018.