Mar. 10, 2016


Our idyll in Costa Rica has been waning for some time, due to departing friends, bureaucracy, bad infrastructure, insane drivers and security concerns. In just twenty-four hours it received a further body blow.

We live at 5,000 feet on the edge of a cloud forest. When we arrived over four years ago, water seemed plentiful. With considerable investment of time, effort and money, we began to create a large tropical garden. It is somewhat admired by visitors, a vanity of course.

To cope with the dry season, which seemed to last a month or two, we had a large and complex sprinkler system installed. Last year, we received a wake-up call. A longer dry spell elicited a request from the water authority to use the sprinklers only at night, as some villagers below us were suffering very low pressure. We gladly complied and continued gardening.

At the beginning of March this year, we received an evening visit from a water engineer. He delivered a brief letter, politely asking us to end irrigation altogether, so that the local community can receive essential services. The current infrastructure cannot cope with the demand. One excuse is that local youths on motor cycles damage the plastic water pipes pipes on the forest trails. More likely, years of unbridled housing development, without a thought for sufficient tank storage is the true culprit

Of course abandoning irrigation is a sensible and fair step, so we ended watering forthwith. We went to bed foreseeing us watching the slow death agony and drying up of four years’ effort, exotic beauty and associated birdlife.

Next morning and somewhat unhappily, I set off to revive my spirits with my customary predawn, one-mile swim in the Olympic pool in Grecia. On arrival, there was a note on the gate, “Closed, no Water”. That makes sense too. Gloomily, I drove back up the mountain dodging the suspension destroying potholes, maniac drivers and the perilously unaware pedestrians and cyclists.

As I drove past the local sugar refinery, it was pumping out vast amounts of water spray. Another possible cause of water shortages? I puzzled as to how a country with so much water had contrived to be so short of it. The consequences for those living here, the massive agricultural use of water and the determination to build ever more houses and to develop the water-guzzling tourist industry gave me pause for thought.

Over breakfast, we decided that we still want to remain in Costa Rica. We began to brainstorm how we might deal with the drought, avoiding the idea of just letting the whole garden die.

The following approaches were rejected as being unethical and unfair to the local people.

1. Cheating:

-       We could ignore the polite request and keep splashing away with the sprinklers, maybe using drip irrigation to avoid detection. We could do this at night wearing black balaclavas.

-       It would be easy to use a hose to fill innumerable watering cans.

-       In true Costa Rican style, we could seek to bribe those needed to turn a blind eye to the sprinklers, or make an illicit connection into the water main.

2. We rejected seeking to reduce other’s use of water as potentially unpopular:

-        Reporting neighbors’ watering, filling swimming pools etc. (Except for the leader of the drug cartel up the hill of course).

-       Campaigning against waste of water by those who pay least for it, the farmers and the sugar plant.

-       Lobbying the authorities to refuse building permits to the many new homes that seem to be envisaged for our street. (Officials might well be linked to the developers).

-        Devising Machiavellian schemes to displace the other inhabitants, for example, raising killer bees, spreading ghost stories and zica virus rumors.

 3. My great ideas, rejected by my dictatorial spouse:

-       Drinking only beer and cocktails

-       Showering only monthly

-       Showering in beer

-       Wearing clothes for a week before washing them, (in beer)

-       Mopping the floors annually

-       Spending millions on bottled water for the garden

-       Dropping in on others for bathroom breaks

I am still pushing the idea of showering together, as potentially adding spice to our debates.

We concluded that we could reduce our water use and still save some of the garden, by:

 4. Ending our previous profligacy:

-       Showering at lower pressure and faster

-       Ending use of the bath tub.

-       Turning off water rather than letting it run

-       Ensuring full loads in washing appliances

 5. Capturing grey water from within the house for garden use:

-       We have already connected the washing machine, to a holding tank.

-        Adding water from small receptacles near each faucet and catching any water before it runs hot.

-        Using washing up bowls to wash crockery and other items

 5. Restructuring the Garden

-       Focusing on drought resistant plants

-       Abandoning the lawns

-       Covering the composting system with plastic to speed the process and reduce evaporation   

6. Major possible future projects

-       The possibility of our own well

-       Collecting water run-off from the roofs, appliances and garden in the wet season and storing for the dry season.

We have spent five days on a lean water regime and are astonished and guilty at how much we have been wasting. We have reduced our internal water usage by at least 50%. We are saving a large part of the remainder to put on the garden. Perhaps we are beginning to live as we always should have done?

We now have the slightest glimmering as to how the poor struggle in drought stricken countries. At least, we do not have to carry unclean water for many miles on our heads on a regular basis.

Discussing this over brunch with friends, they remarked that some folk had been living a lean lifestyle for a long time. What took us so long? Fanaticism has taken hold. So now I  look forward to washing in an egg cup full of water each day.

The swimming pool has reopened. (I think I’ll sneak a bottle of water out when I visit). Every time I see water running down the street from leaks, my blood pressure rises.