The Minister of Environment and Energy (Minae) Edgar Gutiérrez testified last week before the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly about the presence of 150 illegal wells along the coast in the district of Santa Cruz, Guanacaste in the county of Nicoya.
“The wells could jeopardize the water resource of the canton, since they threaten to end or contaminate the underground aquifers, leaving the communities without water,” said the Minae’s Director of Water José Miguel Zeledón.
The district includes popular tourist destinations such as Playa Grande, Tamarindo, and Avellanas.
According to Zeledón, another risk is the salination of the area’s water table. He said that large extraction of water in coastal aquifers can allow salt water to enter, and thus pollute water.
Other coastal communities have reported cases of salinization in recent years including Playa Brasilito in 2015, and Playa Panama at the end of last year, said a report in La Voz de Guanacaste, a regional news outlet.
Gutiérrez reported on findings from two years of research by Minae in the area at a hearing before the legislature’s environmental committee.
According to Zeledón, the private wells identified by the ministry lack either drilling permits or permission to operate, or are without both.
The ministry will continue to investigate the drilling of unauthorized wells in the area of Sardinal, Guanacaste where conflicts over water have been ongoing for years.
By talking with local water departments and residents, Minae officials were able to detect the unauthorized wells, but say their ability to act to fine those without permits is very limited at this time.
Zeledón said the ministry can remove a drilling license from a company that has drilled a well without a permit, but the company can re-license itself under another name and continue to drill until they are detected again.
Current laws regulating water resources date to 1942, said Zeledón, meaning fines are so outdated they can amount to one colón.
Gutiérrez told legislators in his testimony, “I’m worried when they give me data that there are 150 illegal wells in the Santa Cruz area; because what can we do?”, referring to the outdated laws that don’t give officials the power to sanction offenders.