Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeeper® has been set up to tackle some critical and immediate threats to clean water in the area. These are:
Lack of information, documentation, and studies monitoring the waterways
There is a serious lack of basic data, such as length and flow rates, to more specific data regarding sources of pollution, the state of different habitats and impacts of land use practices within the watersheds. Without knowing what the state of the water is, it is difficult to take action.
There are noticeable environmental problems in the area and not knowing their exact extent and their impact makes it a very big threat to the wellbeing of nature and humans. Under this scenario, it is very difficult to make the correct decisions regarding the sustainable use and conservation of water resources.
Unplanned and unregulated touristic development
The coastal towns of Mal País, Carmen, Santa Teresa, and Hermosa have rapidly grown over the last twenty years due to the rapidly expanding tourism industry. Hotels, restaurants, houses, and other touristic services have been built to respond to the rising demand. Unfortunately, much of this growth has happened without any structure or respect to environmental regulations.
Existing infrastructure, namely roads, health centers, water supply, sanitation, waste collection system, is clearly deficient or non-existent. Every year more and more people choose this place as their home and more tourists come visit. The town’s growth puts pressure on already fragile infrastructure. The maritime area has a zoning plan which regulates its development. Nevertheless, other areas in the District are not yet covered by a zoning plan. The lack of regulations regarding the town’s further development and poor law enforcement capacities are two crucial factors that could negatively affect natural resources.
Unsustainable solid waste and wastewater management
Most of our coastal towns have problems with the management of their solid waste and wastewater. Santa Teresa, Carmen, Mal País and parts of Hermosa now have a garbage collection and waste management service which started on 2011. Nevertheless, often the collection truck has problems which makes trash collection an unreliable service. The other towns have unofficial garbage collection, burn their trash, or dispose of it in the nearest river.
The open-air dump in Cobano was officially closed June 2017. The waste collected has to be transferred to a container that takes it to Miramar, Puntarenas. This means that our waste is very costly.
Coastal waters also suffer from solid waste flowing in by the rivers or washing up from offshore mainly during the rainy season (May-October). It is important to note that in the case of rivers with long extension, not all the solid waste that wash up are produced or discarded by the coastal communities, they come from inland.
Wastewater management is also deficient. There is no governmental sewage system, so water treatment relies solely on personal responsibility. Houses and businesses dumping their grey and black water either directly into the ground or into the waterways is a common practice across town; many businesses and houses lack proper treatment systems or have none at all; many others rely on faulty septic systems creating nasty consequences for the area’s water quality.
We need to pay more attention to where our water comes from, how we use it, and how we return it to nature. People do not seem to understand the extent of the consequences of inadequate wastewater management. Many just do it right because the authorities demand it but, in a place where law enforcement capacity is so low, most of the houses and businesses that are polluting just get away with it. The water we give back to nature must be treated appropriately just because, not to comply with regulations!
Sewage trucks that come clean the town’s septic tanks sometimes dump their loads on empty properties, right into the ocean (late at night), or into rivers. People must pay attention and contract companies with the appropriate permits and legitimate waste disposal facilities.
It is also important to point out that there is an incredibly big dog and cat population in these towns which brings about not only natural life depredation, but also a considerable amount of these animals’ feces which contain dangerous pathogens.
Unsustainable agriculture and cattle farming practices
Agriculture and cattle farming are two of the major altering land uses in the area and, due to unsustainable management practices, have had a negative impact mainly on the Ario watershed. It is a common practice that cattle drink water from the river, their waste pollutes the water with very dangerous pathogens. Moreover, clear signs of erosion are visible along the riverbank where pastures for cattle grazing are present.
Agrochemical use has caused the different ecosystems great losses in biodiversity and abundance of species. Locals of the watershed’s towns confirm this loss, as well as having been affected themselves by these harmful chemicals. Signs of eutrophication show in parts of the river were currents slow down; plant blooms become more evident.
Harmful fishing practices
Fishing has been part of the lifestyle of the area since its settlement, but this practice has changed since its artisanal beginnings. The Ario River has and could still be suffering from incredibly harmful fishing practices such as poisoning of the water and the use of explosives. Locals of the area claim that these practices have ceased or at least decreased dramatically in the past 5 years, but there is no proof of this. The Ario river also suffers from the use of gill nets, especially during the months when sardines are present.
Industrial shrimp trawling is a common problem inside the protected waters of the Caletas-Ario National Wildlife Refuge as well as indiscriminate compression diving for benthic species. In the freshwater systems this is also occurring, especially in the Bongo and Ario river mouth, where gill nets are frequently used in sections included inside the Wildlife Refuge.
Another protected area that suffers from illegal fishing is Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve, situated on the south-western tip of the Peninsula. The local fishermen state that they protect the “island” as they call the marine section of the reserve in reference to the small island that sits offshore. They admit that during high tourism season they might take fishing tours into the protected waters if the fishing is bad elsewhere. They consider this practice to be sustainable as they only do it for an average of 4 -5 months of the year.
Fortunately, a group of concerned fishermen from Cabuya got together and started working with the SINAC, National Parks System, and other neighboring fishermen to create a marine managed area that extends from Tambor through the Caletas Ario Wildlife Refuge where fishing practices are regulated.
Draining of rivers for domestic and tourism use
During the dry season (December through April), which coincides with the high season of tourism, the public supply of water is not enough and many of the local business, hotels and houses are forced to either use private (sometimes illegal) wells or buy water. The origin of this water is not confirmed, but local neighbors state they have seen many of water-selling-trucks filling water from the streams and rivers of the area. If the demand keeps growing and there is no regulation or enforcement of the law, the small creeks that are struggling to stay alive will be completely drained.
Fortunately, an aqueduct feeding from the Ario aquifer has been built and started providing water to the coastal touristic communities (Ario-Mal País) as of March 2018 solving their serious water shortages.
Low level of environmental awareness form the community
The community’s generalized environmental awareness is very low. Local sanitation infrastructure is deficient, so this responsibility relies significantly on individuals who might not necessarily be savvy or aware of the consequences of humane pollution on coastal marine environments.
Outdated water law and weak law enforcement capacities
The Costarican water law dates from 1942 and has been recognized as weak and outgrown by social, economic and cultural national development. Regulation By-laws have been adopted throughout the years trying to bridge the water law’s gaps.
Moreover, there is a generalized weak law enforcement capability. Even if the regulation by-laws addressing a determined subject exist, when it comes to law enforcement, everything tends to remain in paper. Courts of law and state institutions are rather inoperative regarding environmental claims in general, let alone those regarding water issues specifically.