"The credibility of the measures for water protection have been damaged by the lack of supervision in government (...) there is a notorious lack of policies and concrete goals (...) The country faces a scenario of uncontrolled water pollution." These were the statements made by the Comptroller General of Costa Rica after analyzing the Costa Rican government’s management on the different sources of water pollutants.

The report approved this year, found that "only 5% of the total number of liters (6279 liters per second) of wastewater discharged into the country’s lakes, seas and oceans receives some pretreatment." What does this mean? That approximately 95% of the water contaminated with organic waste - "generated from domestic activities of man in the use of toilets, showers, lavatories, sinks and laundry, among others" - are poured untreated, despite having a high degree of contaminants.

This fact becomes more relevant if we take into account that there are five contaminated beaches that do not meet water quality parameters. These are: Quepos, Blue, and Tárcoles in the state of Puntarenas, Portetey the Municipal Beach in the state of Limón. In addition, there are another 27 that are a "health hazard", which places them in potential danger of becoming unfit for swimming in the coming years.

According to the Water Directorate of the Ministry of Environment and Energy, "the main sources of water pollution in Costa Rica are the liquids emerging from the sewages". Even the National Water Laboratory of Costa Rica states that "coastal pollution is associated with wastewater discharges that do not go through any previous treatment. This represents approximately 70 to 80 percent of the pollution in the sea water surrounding Costa Rica.”

It should be noted, that the State does not have information to determine how many domestic and foreign tourists visit these beaches, therefore "the magnitude of the risks that people undergo when in contact with the water from these shores cannot be calculated".

Drinking Water 

What follows? The report explains that at least 8% of Costa Rica’s population: 331,668 inhabitants approximately "received contaminated water in 2011." However, they do recognize the progress being made in this matter, mainly because during 1991 through 2011 the supply of polluted water for human consumption dropped by 79%, of the 1,484 aqueducts carrying water, "506 of those do not supply safe drinking water."

Pollution by infiltration 

In Costa Rica, the Comptroller stated that, "there is no mechanism to control water pollution from diffused sources". So, what is this type of pollution? We are talking about the water entering aquatic systems by infiltration, runoffs, and discharges. For example, rain can drain fuel and grease from parking lots, as well as agrochemicals, which pollute the water.

The only proposal identified to control this situation is in the National Plan of Integrated Water Resources of 2008 which established two points of immediate action. One, charging a "fee for discharges" for those who work with products that may be the cause for pollution, and finally, promoting cleaner production in the agricultural sector. However, the Ministry of Environment and Energy did not implement the actions, mainly because of the lack of economic resources in the Department of Water.


In Costa Rica, approximately 75.5% of the population uses septic tanks (also known as cesspools). According to the most recent estimates, 65% of the population has its 'black water' in the septic tank and the rest of the wastewater (shower, kitchen or sink) connected to the storm sewers, that are poured, untreated into rivers and other bodies of water.

While the National Plan settled this situation, the Ministry of Health and the Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (AYA) "do not have detailed information on the operation of septic tanks" because their administration relied on "outdated and insufficient regulation". This affects the seas and increases the risk of groundwater contamination.