Sustainable Water and Development: Can They Co-exist in Costa Rica?


Colleen Ward

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Many countries are establishing hydropower projects, often times without the consent of the communities directly affected by the dams. Water supply downstream is altered, communities are displaced and livelihoods can be uprooted due to a dam. My project objectives included studying Costa Rica?s hydropower industry, environmental flow methods, governance and decisions involving dams, and socioeconomic implications of hydroelectric projects on indigenous populations. As a case study, I investigated the Boruca Dam, proposed to be built in southern Costa Rica, which would displace local indigenous groups. Over two months, I interviewed twenty individuals from all social sectors and I attended two international water conferences. My results include an analysis of the use of hydropower produced by Costa Rica?s national electrical utility, plans to increase dependency on hydroelectric projects for the future, and reduce dependency on imported oil, and monopoly of information and resources. Hydropower currently produces 82% of the country?s energy. These hydroelectric projects produce large environmental and social costs for society. Interviews with members of indigenous communities make clear the younger generation supports development while the elder generation fears development is replacing their cultural identity. Overall, the reforms needed for water use include transparency in the decision making process and the application of water use decisions, equality in the participation elements of decisions, create a vision of development, training for environmental flow science, implementation of a new water law, and enforcement to protect water and its shareholders.


Beth Braker



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