What’s the deal with Costa Rica water?

Written by Michael Simons on . Posted in FAQ's, Investing in Costa Rica

There is so much misinformation on the internet about Costa Rica water. I will do my best here to explain it to you.  One of the main reasons so many foreigners live in the Papagayo region of Costa Rica, instead of anywhere else, is because we have the absolute best weather of any of the beach areas.  Period.  Hands down.  70% of Costa Rica is technically a rain forest.  Key word: RAIN. 

The area of Playa Panama, Playa Hermosa, Playas del Coco and Ocotal has the least amount of rainfall of anywhere in the country.  We actually are one of the only areas in the country that experiences a true dry season.  From January to April we don’t get any rain at all.  Not one single drop.  You hear people say, dry season and rainy season.  This is not true.  We have a dry season, a green season and a rainy MONTH – October.  Eleven months a year we have fantastic weather, and then its one heavy month of rain.

Costa Rica water fall in Playa Hermosa

Waterfall in Playa Hermosa

Most of Costa Rica experiences 6 months of green season and 6 months of heavy rains, and no dry season of any kind.  It never stops raining – Ever.  For the 5 months of our dry season it is like living in Southern California without the traffic, where it is 85 to 90 degrees, no rain and no humidity. Then for 6 months a year it is like living in Florida. It is 75 to 85 degrees, 30% humidity and a nice tropical shower everyday at 3 pm that lasts for a couple hours.  At 5 pm, the rain stops, the clouds go away and you can enjoy a gorgeous sunset on the beach.  In October, anything can happen.  We get half of our annual rainfall in that one month period.  We had a total annual rainfall of 62 inches last year and 30 of that were in October.  Southern Pacific zone?  512 inches!!!!  Arenal 300 inches.  It never stopped raining.

Last year we had 337 days of sunshine, the most in the entire country.  THIS IS AWESOME.  Why, you ask?  There are many issues associated with year round rain.  The obvious, is the humidity.  Living in the southern zone is like living in Miami in August all year long.  Blazing hot and 90% humidity – No Thanks.  It also means lots of mold and mildew.  It means year round maintenance on your property as the jungle continues to over take your property.  Just when you cut it, it grows right back.  But worst of all, it means lots of bugs and the things that eat them.  In most of Costa Rica, there is a tremendous mosquito problem.  Then you have the bigger bugs that eat the mosquitos and the spiders and snakes that eat the bugs etc.  All the way up to 20 foot crocodiles walking across the road.  It is truly a jungle and for most people that is just too much to handle.  It is why we have very few bugs at all here in the Papagayo area, and that is very appealing to most foreigners, like me.

I hate bugs.  I am like a girl.  The dry seasons allow all rain and standing water to evaporate, leaving no where for the mosquitos to breed.  Ask anyone who came here and they will tell you, they saw very few bugs of any kind, and there are almost no issues of mold.  The dry season, though, also means that we are a technically a desert for 5 months a year.  So like anywhere that experiences a dry climate, we have to be very conservative with Costa Rica water.

The Papagayo region sits on the largest aquifer in Guanacaste.  It is called the Tempisque River Basin.  It is where all the water from the high altitudes of the rain forest, flows in a big underground river towards the sea.  The hydrologists have done studies and proven that there is enough water, sitting under the surrounding areas of the Liberia airport, to service Houston Texas.  Now, whether it is Houston or San Antonio, the point is that there is a boat load of water, just a couple miles from where all the development is going on.  The problem is not the availability of water; it is the ability to deliver the water from point A to point B.  Like everything in Costa Rica, INFRASTRUCTURE.

When I first came to Playa Hermosa, it was literally the middle of no where.  The roads were dirt, and poorly maintained.  The electricity went out 5 times a day, and there was only dial up internet.  There was no cell phone service, no land lines available, no hospital or police.  The airport didn’t exist and we had one tiny grocery store.  That was just 13 years ago.  Today, there is a $20 Million International airport.  There is a new state of the art CIMA hospital.  The roads are the best in the country, and everyone has high speed wireless internet.  There is 4g cell service and 3 phase high voltage electric.  The police drive brand new trucks, there are an ambulance service minutes away and all the amenities of a first world country.  Dozens of restaurants, 5 grocery stores, lots of night life, hotels, golf courses, tennis courts, spas, a marina and a new boardwalk in Coco.  There is even a new Hard Rock Café in the center of all the action.

It is a FANTASTIC place to live, the best in the world in my opinion.  And just an hour drive to the rain forest when you want to play Tarzan and Jane.   The last real hurdle in the infrastructure battle, are the new water lines being built to the area.

In 2005, like everywhere in the world, we were experiencing a huge real estate and economic boom.  Projects were being built everywhere in the world and money was flowing in from all sides.  The government of Costa Rica was enjoying the rush like everyone.  Permits were being approved left and right and construction was booming.  But all of a sudden they realized that if these condos and hotels were completed, there would be serious electricity and water shortage as the existing infrastructure was not capable of delivering the demand.  There was plenty of water for the existing homes, but that would change if all these new units were built.  So they stopped many of the projects, while they upgraded the systems.

Like most Latin American countries, Costa Rica does not have a lot of spare money.  So they had to ask the developers of these projects to put up the money for the construction of two new water lines.  One to service Playas del Coco and Ocotal.  The other to bring water to Playa Panama and Hermosa.  The money was raised in a matter of months, as millions of dollars was put up by developers in hopes of getting their water hook ups and continuing their projects.  Unfortunately, there is an entity here in Costa Rica, like many parts of the USA, who call themselves activists.  This is very sad, because these people are not activists.  They are Eco Terrorists.  They want to stop all development in Costa Rica.  An activist is someone who sleeps in a tree for a month so you don’t cut it down.  I respect those people.  But suing every single project that tries to get permits, in the name of the people, is nothing short of a crime, because it is only the local people who are hurt.

The locals are the ones who don’t have the jobs they desperately need to feed their families. The local Ticos do not stand behind these people; they want to see progress too.  They want the jobs and prosperous futures for their children.  These activists sued the new water lines, which held them up for another 3 years while it went through the Supreme Court.  Guess what?  The government won.  The court said, this is the countries water, and they can do what they want with it.  You see the government of Costa Rica WANTS DEVELOPMENT.  They WANT economic growth.  They WANT opportunities for their people.  The President of the country, Luis Guillermo Solis announced in his inaugural speech, that foreign investment was going to be one of his top priorities.  They WANT foreign investment and welcome it.  And they want foreigners to be living here spending their money in this country.

A lot of positive things are happening because of this water situation.  You see, most developments in Costa Rica are serviced by their own private wells.  They are given a concession by the government allowing them a certain amount of water.  But the problem with this is that the government doesn’t receive any profit from the water usage.  How can the water company make any money if the people are just taking the water out of the ground for free?  You see many of the laws of this country are based on Napoleonic laws, written hundreds of years ago.  The Costa Rica water laws were written on the assumption that a farmer would be taking the water out of the ground to use for his crops.  Not a residential development of homes or condos or even a hotel.  So the water company AyA had to pass new laws requiring every single development to form an ASADA, or what we would call a water association.  They forced projects to do this by not issuing any new building permits until the ASADA’s were formed.  Every single development in the entire country had to form an ASADA, from Guanacaste to Dominical, from the Pacific Ocean to the rain forest in the Caribbean.

By the end of next year, every development in our area should have their ASADA formed and completed.  This new law will allow the water company AyA to make money off of the water usage, and hence finally, make a profit after decades of being broke.  This will allow them to continue to build new water lines around the entire country.  There is even a 10 year plan to build an Alaskan Pipeline of water from the Lake Arenal to the beaches to service the country for the next 100 years. All of this is great news for the long term stability of the country and our water. It the short term, it means we need to be very conservative of our water usage.

The construction of the new water lines are starting again and shortly you will see these projects that are currently stopped, resume. They are scheduled to be completed by Mid 2018 with all the infrastructure in place. This will allow these projects to re obtain their permits and finish. Within a very short period of time, no one will ever be talking about water problems again.

In the future, you will see the government be more cautious with their permit granting, and take a stronger role in protecting the environment.  In the end, the natural beauty is what attracts people to Costa Rica, and no one wants to do anything to destroy that.  We want development but we all want sustained development.  If anything, the developers and realtors I have met are more conscious of the environment than any of the local Costa Ricans.  But remember, even once these lines are built, we are still a desert 5 months a year.  If places like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Dubai can be built in the middle of no where, Guanacaste will be just fine too.  It is up to us, the residents though, to conserve Costa Rica water, even after these lines are built.

Like my family, who lives in Colorado, and friends who live in California and Texas, many places experience water shortages and they all have to do their fare share to conserve.  Take quicker showers in the dry season, and don’t be wasteful of water.  Don’t wash your car everyday, and wait until the dishwasher and washing machine is full before you turn it on.  Plant landscaping that is indigenous to Guanacaste and doesn’t need a lot of water.  Use cactus and natural rocks for landscaping instead of miles of grass and sod.  Run your sprinklers from December to April, for just the minimum amount of time needed to keep everything alive, and run it at night, when evaporation is at a minimum.  Like anything, take a moment to see what you can do to make a difference and everyone will benefit.

But trust me when I tell you, the only place to live in Costa Rica, is right here in the Papagayo.  If you don’t believe me, just go spend a week in the Southern zone.  But bring your galoshes and your rain coat, and bring plenty of bug repellent.  But please be careful; look out for the crocodiles and the snakes.

Michael D Simons
Co Owner/Broker
RE/MAX Tres Amigos/Prestige Ocean Properties/Ocean Village
Email Michael@tanktopsflipflops.com
Office 011-506-2672-4100
Cell    011-506-8812-2242

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