In Costa Rica, a country globally recognized for the success of its environmental protection efforts, the sustainable and effective governance of water has become a quickly rising priority. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the dry tropic of Guanacaste Province. At least 65 water conflicts (defined by legal action taken by one or more parties against another party) between 1997 and 2006 were documented in Guanacaste—one water conflict every 56 days in a land area slightly smaller than Los Angeles County with a population thirty times smaller.
Guanacaste was Costa Rica’s last frontier for development. It was known for its cowboys, heat, and bumpy roads. Today, a population that has increased five-fold since 1950, an economy that is increasingly open to global markets, and the continued expansion of irrigated agriculture and tourism infrastructure have created intense competition for water resources. Guanacaste also accounts for a large amount of Costa Rica’s foreign direct investment, agricultural production, and electricity generation. A more sidelined province on the national political stage, Guanacaste may not have the influence it should with the capital’s water politics.2 Regardless, how water is governed in Guanacaste will play an important role that helps determine the sustainability of Costa Rica’s future.