In 2014, our Guacimal community engaged in a fierce battle against private investors funding a project that aimed to divert most of the flow of the Río Veracruz for a cattle ranching agribusiness operation. This project implicated severe repercussions for Guacimal and downstream communities, as it would have significantly polluted potable water sources, gravely impacted public health, and destroyed ecosystem services. This launched us into working within the unjust world of water distribution in Costa Rica, and within this, we discovered that we were not alone in navigating a critical situation.
We connected with various entities and true citizen environmental groups during our struggle, which offered a supportive network of passionate environmental and community activists. For our case within the Supreme Court against the developers, we needed to prove that our water was indeed of excellent quality and should be prioritized, under the national law, to remain as clean drinking water for the people. As a rural community, we did not have enough money to pay for laboratory testing of the water and faced losing the Supreme Court case on the basis of lack of sufficient scientific information, despite our struggle as a community in activism and awareness.
Water quality scientist Dr. Thomas Shahady, who had been studying water quality in our area for years, was willing to provide us with free water quality testing to prove that the Río Veracruz was indeed healthy potable water essential for community drinking water. This provided key evidence for our Supreme Court case, and the scientific data in combination with our arguments of environmental justice and community rights enabled our case to be successful under Article 50 of the Costa Rican constitution, which states that all citizens of Costa Rica have the right to “un ambiente sano y ecológicamente equilibrado” (a healthy and ecologically balanced environment). Thus, the Río Veracruz that runs through our small yet strong community of Guacimal is free flowing and healthy.
Out of the painful process of defending the Río Veracruz, our Sustainability Demonstration Center (SDC), under the non-profit Asociación para la Sostenibilidad Rural de Costa Rica, was born. The alliance between Dr. Shahady and the Water Quality Center established our water quality lab, AguaVida Laboratory for the People. AguaVida aims to provide accessible water quality science opportunities, realized through providing low-cost water quality testing and scientific support to any “community” within Costa Rica, be they the poorest rural ASADAs, individuals or organizations fighting for their right to enough clean water.