Costa Rica is supposed to be lush, muddy, and biodiverse. My new home, Potrero, is different. Here, dust comes out of the tap, and water restrictions rule. The locals leave buckets out in hopes of rain. The rain never comes. The first warning sign occurred seventeen years ago when students at the University of Costa Rica found the region’s aquifers to be “threatened by over-exploitation.” Yet, business continued as usual until, in 2014, the water company AyA seized control of Potrero’s water facility from ASADA, a community development organization.
For reference, in 2007, AyA had been sued for granting water use permits without actually knowing how much water was in town aquifers. According to locals, the company favors 'gringos.' Indeed, AyA quickly siphoned water from Potrero to Las Catalinas, a resort down the road. When protests erupted over the matter, the national police stepped in.
Outraged, the town of Potrero sued AyA. Favoring development, the court ruled in the corporation's favor. The locals were devastated. Risking their livelihoods and health, they opted to protest again, despite the police presence. Then, the press caught on and protests spread across the country. Everybody was talking about AyA's hostile takeover; Even presidential hopefuls spoke out.
In a full-hearty attempt to silence the bad PR, AyA sued ASADA for civil disobedience. In a shocking turn of events, the initial court ruling, which favored the corporation, was overturned. Thus, AyA was ousted. Potrero's locals lined the streets, dancing and singing in celebration. The whole country seemed to be cheering.
However, the celebrations were cut short. Even under ASADA, water distribution was inequitable. Within months, Las Catalinas and the surrounding tourist areas allegedly controlled over 65% of Potrero's water--at least that's what the townsfolk say. While the exact figures are unknown, there is a clear water disparity.
For starters, resorts and expat homes do not face water restrictions. This enables the growth of abundant vegetation, the upkeep of infinity pools, and the luxury of long showers. Meanwhile, the taps of Potrero are shut off for scheduled periods of 5-10 hours daily, and often much longer. Visually, the difference is stark: On my morning jog, I see patches of jungle-like tropics on the outskirts of scorched yellow earth.
Despite the obvious inequality, the protests didn't last. I asked my neighbor Maria why: “People got tired and the country moved on,” she said in Spanish. Besides, “the burden always falls on us, the women.” The women are also tasked with childcare, house cleaning, and work (if they’re lucky). Potrero is Costa Rica’s last frontier. With only 300 residents and 2 stunning shorelines, the foreigners are flocking to town.