Runaway runoff jeopardizes properties and water on coast

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have a local gardener, and he cleans my yard really well.  Too well.  He picks up every leaf.  The consequence of all this neatness is erosion.  My top soil washes away with every rain.  The same thing is happening to the beaches on a larger scale.

No.  My gardener is not picking up leaves, but the properties above the beach are sending their water out to sea as fast as they can.  These deep drainage ditches are all dry now after several weeks of rain.  In their rapid rush to the sea, the water carried part of the beach with it.  In Manzanillo at the far east end of the ramshackle Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo road, there is a new inland strip lagoon of water adjacent to the sea.  It was carved out of the beach by the rapid run off of storm water.  As the rain stops, the inland lagoon does and will stink.

In the short walk from Playa Chiquita to Punta Uva, where there once was only two storm water outfalls, now there are many.  Some of these storm water outfalls converge to make little islands and undercut the coconut palms and the almond trees.   They fall in and the water creeps up higher into the forest and higher into the legally developed lots.  The first 200 meters from the beach has several restrictions to development.  The law says that if the water moves and puts your property into the 200-meter zone, “tough luck!”

Many of us did the research and were careful to build our homes outside of the zone.   But now with the increased development, the water is coming closer.  This means we may lose our homes to an act of nature…that really is the cumulative acts of our neighbors.  If there is no law in this environmentally sensitive area to control and manage storm water, there should be.  And if there is a law, then enforcement is long overdue.

Not only are we in danger of losing our land, but we are in peril of having salt water intrusion into our drinking wells.  The water table here is very shallow.  We have that water because water soaks into the ground and collects below.  These huge engineered canals dug with a ditch witch or backhoe are not giving the water time to soak in.  It really is not right that people move to a coastal wetlands and start drying it up.  It is especially not right when everything is connected and this wet environment is what gives us our special place in a tropical paradise.  There are ways to correctly manage storm water .  If there is a plan for this area, storm water management should be part of it!

Carol I. Meeds
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
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