When considering building a home in Costa Rica, you might expect water availability to be the least of your concerns. After all, it’s a tropical country with bountiful rainfall in the wet season. How could there be any issues relating to potable water supply? Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, this cannot be taken for granted. The availability of potable water will equal, if not exceed, your concern for a suitable building location, particularly in the dryer parts of the country.
The requirement to conduct legal due diligence regarding potable water availability in a chosen building site, cannot be overstated.
Proprietary rights vested in the state
In Costa Rica, the proprietary right to manage and allocate the country’s potable water reserves is vested in the state. The main governmental water regulatory authority is known as AyA — short for “Acueductos y Alcantarillados”, or in English, Water and Sewer Systems. This is the mother water regulatory body for the management and distribution of water in Costa Rica.
Community-based water regulatory associations known as ASADAS — short for “Asociaciones Administradoras de los Sistemas de Acueductos y Alcantarillados Comunales” — exist in many urbanized rural parts of the country. They manage local water systems in their local area of jurisdiction, but are subordinate to the jurisdiction of AyA.
Private wells are granted by government concession and registered in the national water well registry known as SENARA, short for “Servicio Nacional de Aguas Subterráneas, Riego y Avenamiento.” They exist on individual private properties, where permitted by MINAE, the Ministry of the Environment. In dryer parts of the country, such as Guanacaste province, private drilling of wells is prohibited in many areas.
Letter required for municipal building permit
In order to obtain a building permit from the municipality that has jurisdiction over your intended building location, you must provide an official letter of authority from the applicable local water regulatory authority. Alternatively, you need proof of a registered well concession having been granted for private property indicating there will be a suitable source of potable water available for the intended construction.
This letter of authority must be submitted to the municipality, along with a set of architect-approved building plans, at the time of the building permit application. Normally, at the time of purchase, the purchaser would request such a letter of authority from the building lot seller as a part of the required due diligence. If not, it is imperative that the buyer’s due diligence demonstrates, at the time of purchase, that such a letter of authority will be available when the building permit application is made.
Unfortunately, many otherwise suitable building sites fail for the want of legal access to potable water. In my opinion, although difficult to regulate, rainwater capture for the independent potable water source of a particular property would be a solution in many situations when water is unavailable from traditional sources. To date, municipalities have not recognized rainwater capture as a viable alternative source of potable water for issuing a building permit.