Costa Rica is blessed with abundant rainfall in most parts of the country and, compared with other developing countries, its government has done a good job of managing this resource in order to provide reliable sources of potable water at a reasonable cost to almost all of the population.
In most urban areas, water is provided by a public utility such as the National Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) or regional public utilities. AyA also serves rural areas, although in many communities local organizations called ASADAS are responsible for managing community watersheds, water sources and aqueducts. ADADAS often serve also as a forum for community leaders to meet to address other community concerns. In all of the above situations, potable water is provided to landowners for a fee based on consumption.
Many landowners in rural areas prefer the independence of taking water from an independent well or spring, which also often means purer and better tasting water because of the lack of chemical treatment. However, in order to take of advantage of these resources, where they exist, a concession from the Ministry of the Environment (MINAE) is required, which can be time consuming and, because of fees paid to consultants or lawyers to obtain the permit, more costly in the short term.
While Costa Rica has rich water resources, some areas which have developed quickly have already experienced water shortages, while several threats exist to the country’s water supply. These include overdevelopment of areas with limited water supplies (such as the coast of Guanacaste in the northwestern part of the country). In addition, studies regarding the effects of climate change on Costa Rica predict that most of the country will become significantly hotter and dryer over time, which could result in chronic water shortages if appropriate steps to conserve water sources aren’t taken.
Perhaps the most important threat to water supplies in Costa Rica is the contamination of surface and groundwater sources, which is an area where significant problems exist. Lack of sewage treatment facilities in urban areas leads to the dumping of untreated wastewater in rivers, while groundwater sources are threatened by urban sprawl, inadequate wastewater treatment, contamination with industrial and agricultural chemicals and, in coastal areas, the intrusion of salt and brackish water into aquifers as fresh water is pumped out of the ground.