Water problems in the southern Caribbean coast are a combination of outdated infrastructure, population growth and real estate development.
Although the Central Valley and the Pacific coast have been inundated with unexpected rains, the southern Caribbean has experienced an unusually dry month. That highlights the fact that an urgent water shortage exists.
The villages of Cocles and Playa Chiquita have been rationing water for a month, with many households not receiving any water from the daily flow. Residents tolerate water shortages every year, but this year appears to be the worst in history, due to reduced expected rainfall and new homes with swimming pools that have been built without consideration for the limited water supply.
Abner López is a local employee of the Institute Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados. He said the state firm has a two-step plan to bring water from Sandbox, a stable water source near Bribri. The pipe has so far reached Hone Creek, where there was no public water for many residences. The second step of the plan is to bring the pipe from Hone Creek to Cocles, replacing the shallow well that has been the only source of public water since 1999.
At that time, said López, the Cocles well served only 80 homes. Fifteen years ago, there was no water problem. But now there are more than 350 houses served by the Cocles well. It is a shallow well, just 9.70 meters deep, some 32 feet, and a pump produces a maximum of 11.5 liters per second during wet season and only four liters per second when the water level is low. Four liters is just a bit more than a gallon.
This shallow well was never intended to serve 350 homes, not to mention tourists staying in hotels and cabinas during the high season.
A tourist who stayed at Le Cameleon last week complained that he had paid premium prices only to find that there was no water, not even to brush his teeth. Property managers are canceling reservations because rental homes do not have water.
According to López, the solution is not to drill a deeper well. The water company attempted this, but discovered that the water at deeper levels is saline.
In the meantime, López and his co-worker, Miguel Baltodano, along with a volunteer group in Cocles, are actively seeking solutions while they wait for the pipeline to arrive. They are building a reserve tank to store surplus water during the rainy season in order to avoid shortages during the next dry season. And, they are offering subsidies and interest-free loans to families who need to purchase water tanks to collect surplus water for home use when the next drought comes.