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How to get a water concession in Costa Rica

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As a potential buyer of properties in Costa Rica, maybe you’ve heard whispers about it being difficult to get a water concession in Costa Rica. Some of you might have even brushed up against the issue. A valid water concession is essential in obtaining a building permit in Costa Rica. So what is the situation with water in our Costa Ballena region? 

Since July of 2018, AyA, the water authority in Costa Rica, declared new intentions in the environmental management within MINAE (Ministry of the Environment and Energy). This involved the cessation of granting water concessions in developments that were not tied into a local ASADA, which is a government sanctioned authority that manages a communal water system within a region. This ruling has left a number of property owners in a bind all over Costa Rica, unable to tie into an ASADA system without the complete overhaul of their current water system to meet their local ASADA-defined standards, such as the size of the tubing or the amount of water flow per second.

Over the last year, our office has been working hard to understand these tighter regulations by meeting a number of times with the president of our local ASADA as well as representatives from the municipality government, MINAE and a team of lawyers. We have not been able to receive a clear answer about how to proceed, other than to council our sellers that if their property is in a development that is not tied to ASADA to lobby their home owner’s association to share in the costs of redeveloping the water system. This is obviously not an easy solution and one that may take an exhausting amount of time, especially for our clients who need to sell in the near future. It would be irresponsible of us to recommend the purchase of a property without access to legal water.

As of this week, we have found some more appropriate solutions that have been successful for others without incurring much additional cost or added delay. On Wednesday, we hosted Jonathan Bogantes of TB Bogantes Soluciones Industriales. He is an engineer from Perez Zeledon who has completed a number of water filtration and purification projects. He has assisted in obtaining a number of water concessions for private clients since July of last year and he filled us in on what his suggestions are for obtaining a legal water source that will result in receiving a water concession.

Bogantes says that there are four methods for obtaining legal water access rights in Costa Rica. Below, we list them in order of ease of obtaining a water concession based on time, money, and other factors, as related to us by Bogantes:

  1. Tying into a local ASADA. We have detailed this option above in the article and what its drawbacks are, however this is the easiest and most guaranteed way to obtain permission to build because you are tied into a government mandated system, so no need for an alternative concession. This option can be almost immediate to obtain under the right conditions.
  2. Using a superficial water source on the property. This can be spring, stream or river that crosses the property or a rainwater catchment. If the source can be proven to be of a standard water quality or better with adequate year-round flow, a property can be granted a water concession within 6 months by the MINAE. This is a much more complicated process if the water source is on a neighboring property.
  3. Digging a well with machinery. This option comes with a variety of complications that includes soil testing and getting permits for digging the well because it requires heavy machinery. This option is mainly viable for a developer looking to supply a number of lots in an area that requires digging deep into the ground to tap water. Water must be tested to prove potable water quality and year round flow of a standard pressure for the size of the development. It can take up to a year and a half to obtain a water concession by this method and the price would be determined by the location and depth of the well.
  4. Digging an artesian well. This is a well that is hand-dug to a depth of no more than 21 meters and cannot be located within 15 meters of another well or construction. This option is only viable for a single home. Water must be tested to prove potable water quality and year round flow of a standard pressure for the size of the home. If this option is viable on the property, it is possible to obtain a water concession within 6 months at a cost or around US$6000. Although this option was listed as number 4, Bogantes prefers this option for speed and ease of obtaining a water concession if ASADA or a superficial water source are unavailable.

The above quoted times and prices for making a concession application are applicable between December and April. If application is made any other time of the year, the process could take an additional 6 months or so because the flow of water can only be accurately measured when it is at its lowest pressure in the drier months of December to April. The company’s ability to dig is also impeded during heavy rains, also delaying this process.

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