Luis Palacios
Costa Rica
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Water scarcity is a global challenge: one of the countries with the highest water availability per person, Costa Rica, does not escape this challenge and seeks to increase water availability through desalination–converting seawater into drinking water; however, this process requires expensive technologies and approval of a series of permits have limited its adoption in the country. To encourage the use of desalination plants, regulations whose main implications we summarize below have been adopted.

1. Expansion of uses: Under Article 5 of the Desalination Systems Regulation, desalinated water can serve all usages.

  • Condominium supply: Article 12 of the Regulation and Article 6 of Decree 35271-S-MINAE clarify that desalinated water may supply condominiums that can request permission to take water from the sea and outside the property’s common areas to conduct it to ensure a reliable water supply.

2. Desalinated-water usage: Article 4 of the Regulation indicates that desalination systems usage will be encouraged: proof of the absence of public drinking water service is unnecessary to obtain a water desalination concession.

3. Passage of pipes in the Maritime Terrestrial Zone: Article 23 of the Regulation allows the passing of conduits through the public area within 50 meters of the sea, as long as the pipelines are underground, permanently protected, and do not obstruct the free transit of the public.

4. Acceleration of procedures: Article 6 of the Desalination Systems Regulation requires various permits; however, the Regulation provides reduced deadlines to obtain them.

  • Environmental Viability: Article 11 of the Regulations requires that the processing agency, SETENA, not take more than 35 days to complete the study and issue a decision.
  • Approval of construction plans: Like any building project in the country, the relevant Municipality must issue a construction permit before the project proceeds.
  • Water usage concession request: Under Article 13 of the Regulation, once the Environmental Viability study is complete, the Water Department has 30 days to approve the concession request, a shorter term than other water concessions.
  • Sanitary Operating Permit: This may be the same as for the activity to which you want to provide water, as clarified in Article 7 of the Regulation for the Quality of Drinking Water.
  • Permission to lay pipes through beaches: The Municipality (or the ICT in the case of projects located in the Golfo de Papagayo Tourist Pole) must issue such permission.

5. Simultaneous procedures: In addition to the preferential terms for permits (that usually take longer to obtain), Article 7 of the Regulations enables simultaneous approval of all pertinent matters, except for permission for the passage of pipes, which requires approval of Environmental Viability by SETENA and Water Concession by the Water Directorate.

Even though desalination equipment costs remain an obstacle, the new regulations to simplify saltwater purification procedures are a significant step toward increasing potable water availability in the country.