Drought Observatory of Costa Rica*

*In collaboration with the Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia, FUNDECOR, Water and Global Change Observatory, Geography School, University of Costa Rica.

This joint effort comprises 37 fully-instrumented weather stations (including soil moisture and temperature monitoring) and four rain gauges (two under canopy conditions in highly relevant recharge areas) across Costa Rica. Stations are online and provide real-time information to farmers, national parks, governmental institutions, drinking water operators, NGOs, environmental agencies,  researchers, and students. All stations are under the regular maintenance service of Asesoría Agícola Ambiental & Americana, S.A.

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Dry Corridor Area

According to the FAO:

As a strictly ecological concept, the Central American Dry Corridor (CADC) is a tropical dry forest region on the Pacific side of Central America that stretches from the Pacific Coast of Chiapas, Mexico, to the western part of Costa Rica and western provinces of Panama. The Dry Corridor is known for its irregular rainfall, and has become one of the most susceptible regions in the world to climate change and variability. During years of El Niño-ENOS, for example, precipitation drops by 30% – 40%, with long periods of heatwaves during which there is hardly any rainfall. This window of time with no precipitation, which is increasing over time, has disastrous consequences on the cultivation of basic grain crops, such as corn, which are part of the region’s subsistence agriculture.

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Hydro-meteorological monitoring in the northern slope of the Central Valley of Costa Rica

Water is recognized as the most fundamental and indispensable of all natural resources. One of the sustainable development goals (SDGs No.6) adopted by world leaders was to ensure the human right of access to water and sanitation for all by 2030, recognizing that clearly neither socioeconomic development, nor environmental diversity, can be sustained without water. However, unequal distribution at different scales and unsustainable water use are creating tensions over water allocation worldwide.

In Costa Rica (a nation with a vast capital of water resources), over 700 water conflicts emerged during the last decade (2005-2015) as a response to limited water availability during El Niño-induced drought events and inefficient water use. A recent study (Esquivel-Hernández et al., 2017) demonstrated that roughly 80% of the conflicts occurred due to inadequate water infrastructure or a lack of scientific knowledge ranging from groundwater recharge processes to water distribution in the main urban areas.

In the northern slope of the Central Valley of Costa Rica, a public company known as ESPH, S.A. (Public Service Company of Heredia) serves drinking water to over +200,000 inhabitants using a variety of water sources including surface water, spring water, and deep groundwater wells, whereby the overall contribution of each source changes throughout the water year (or inter-annually) depending on rainfall seasonality.

For instance, in the last five years, rainfall deficit ranged between -46.7% (2014) and -12.4% (2016) from the long-term mean annual rainfall (1982-2012: 2,452 mm). The latter poses a challenging scenario for water security, and consequently, on effective water distribution, not only for ESPH´s service area but for about 20% of Costa Rica´s population, since the northern mountainous region of the Central Valley has been identified as a critical recharge region (Sánchez-Murillo et al., 2016). Therefore, the understanding of urban hydrology requires an interdisciplinary analysis including the identification of water sources and mixing ratios, groundwater-surface water connectivity, storage and transport in the context of rapid urban growth and inter-annual climate variability.

Meteorological stations

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River and spring stations

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