There is one daily commodity that just can’t be replaced

Taken for granted until it is not there. A.M. Costa Rica graphic

Expats here know that utilities are sometimes unreliable.

Electricity goes off unexpectedly. The Compañía de Fuerza y Luz has a continuing maintenance program that results in neighborhood blackouts. Fixed-line telephone service is better than it has been, but there still are flaws. Cell telephones challenge peace of mind. Amnet’s Internet experiences daily down times.

As necessary as these services are, water is the most important. The Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados services much of the country. When this company experiences an outage, the suffering for customers is immediate.

Considering that the infrastructure is ancient in spots, the company known as AyA is generally responsive to outages and water leaks. Still, a cautious expat keeps a supply of bottled water on hand.

If a major earthquake hits, water pipes will be shattered or swept away. The country may need weeks to provide basic services. A rooftop tank would be helpful, but not all homes have one. AyA would be hard-pressed to service stricken areas with the tankers it now uses for local emergencies.

The country also is lucky that it has companies that sell water in big bottles. Some expats prefer the bottled waters because they see it as healthful and free of chemicals. That appears to be the case.

Both Agua Cristal, produced by Florida Bebidas S.A., and the newer Aqua Healthy use carbon filters and ozone to purify their products.

Cristal says on its Web site that the water comes from the springs of Echeverría de Alajuela that draws the water from the slopes of the Barva volcano.

The company Web site says it runs the water through a centrifuge to remove any unwanted solids. Then the liquid goes through an active carbon filter that absorbs odor or discolorations in the water. The next step involves cotton microfilters to catch any remaining solids or microorganisms. Finally the water ends up in a stainless tank where an electric current generates purifying ozone.

The 7-year-old Aqua Healthy says it does add Sodium hypochlorite as a purifying agent, but it said that the carbon filter removes that and any other chemicals. The firm also uses sand and polypropylene filters, ultraviolet light and ozone.

Other firms use similar processes. Coca-Cola FEMSA, S.A. de C.V. markets Alpina, Dasani and Shangri-La brands. Its springs are in San José.

The public must like the product because perhaps as many as 100 million liters of bottle water are sold annually in Costa Rica. The sales range from the 12-ounce bottle to the 18.9 liter bidón seen in many homes and offices.

Many areas of Costa Rica, despite efforts by AyA, do not have drinkable tap water. So bottled water is a necessity. A liter is 2.2 pounds, so the big bidón weighs in at nearly 42 pounds or nearly 19 kilos.

A United Nations water expert estimated in 2009 that 82.2 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water. That is one of the highest rates in Latin America and the Caribbean. But his report noted that the percentage dips to about 60 percent in rural areas.

Water also has played a strong political role. Residents of Sardinal have protested the use of springs there for development projects in Playas del Coco. The protests and legal actions have basically shut down a pipeline project and left many condos without water.

AyA is celebrating its 50th birthday this year, and Oct. 12 in the Teatro Popular Melico Salazár the institute will have the finals of a song contest it is running. The songs have to have water as a central theme and be unpublished.

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