Water Security Challenges in Costa Rica?

Water security is not the first environmental challenge that comes to mind when one mentions Costa Rica.  Perhaps tropical deforestation or biodiversity loss probably come to mind before water resources.  The nation, as a whole, is water wealthy. The available water in Costa Rica is 2.8 × 104 m3/person-year while only 1.5 × 103 m3/year is used, allowing some growth in resource use.  Yet, a closer look and a few questions to government agencies, farmers, and local people, reveal how water security challenges have slowly moved to the center of debates and discussions on environmental management for this Central American country. That is, water security is more than simply water access.

There are several key challenges that commonly arise in my recent conversations:

  • Rise of hydroelectricity to achieve national carbon goals
  • Water-Food-Ecological Services conflicts in the Tempisque Watershed
  • Agro-industrial pollution of waterways
  • Water security for local communities in tourist areas of Guanacaste (Pacific Coast)
  • Transboundary conflict (Rio San Juan) and cooperation (Sixoala)
  • Overuse and agrochemical contamination of aquifers

And what looms over all of these is unknown impacts related to what Robin Leichenko and Karen O’Brien have called the “double exposure”:  the interactions between global environmental change and economic globalization.  In Costa Rica’s case, it is climate variability, increase demand for export crops, and the rise of Chinese FDI and investment in several key sectors, that further exacerbate the water challenges.

So, for the next few years, it looks like there will be plenty of opportunities for students to study water security and governance issues as part of a study abroad in Costa Rica.  I hope to have this ready for Summer 2018. 

img_1357View from TAMU Soltis Center, Costa Rica, “homebase” for study abroad, research activities and outreach.

img_1356Student groups make their mark on the walls, pillars, and soon, the ceilings of the dining hall at the Soltis Center.