Friday, February 09, 2007

Water for El Salvador -- the need for clean water sources

With surface water contaminated through El Salvador, getting access to clean sources of water can be an expensive proposition. This story from National Public Radio describes the situation:

El Salvador isn't a place where you'd expect to find water problems. After all, it gets nearly six feet of rainfall each year. But Ricardo Navarro says clean water is in short supply. Contaminated water kills thousands of Salvadorans every year. Most are children.

"When we talk about the water problem in El Salvador, we are talking about that: the lack of clean water to drink," says Navarro, president of an environmental group called the Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technology.

He says the country has failed to protect a precious resource. Farmers have cut down forests that used to store rain water. Ranchers have allowed their livestock to pollute rivers. Communities have put latrines too close to shallow wells.

"Big enterprises… use the river as a place where they can throw everything. So whatever chemical goes in, it goes out," Navarro says.

One solution is deep wells. They draw from aquifers so far underground they are protected from surface pollution. Groups like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and CARE International have funded a lot of these wells as part of efforts to build modern water systems. But large, ambitious projects often prove hard to sustain. (more)



When I grew up in San Salvador in the 1970s, we lived by the shores of Rio Acelhuate. When I went back to El Salvador in the 1990s, I was really appalled to see the condition the river is in. Maybe one tends to idealize the past, especially childhood, but I really don't remember it being that bad. In fact, just a few years after I arrived in the U.S., when I was learning English and learning about Teddy Roosevelt's "Conservation" philosophy, I wrote a poem where I bragged, "The Conservationist spirit dwells/ In my homeland's creeks and wells." Boy, the Rio Acelhuate would put the lie to that claim!

Water resources management is a growing problem in the region, and it really shows up in big ways. For example, if you go to Managua, one of the striking things you observe is how there are no water activities -- no sports, no jet skies, no fishing, no swimming -- in Lake Managua, the large body of water that dominates the capital's scenery. This is due to pollution concerns. Water management is a component of urban planning, and it takes its place along a disastrous litany of failed state action, together with structural standards in an earthquake zone, rampant poverty, poor economic modeling, and politics and policies that are persistently driven by ideology and not pragmatism. Today my poem might read, "The Conservationist spirit fell/ Into my hometown's dried-up well !"

HODAD26 said...

as my many posts in regards to these proposed gold mines and how they will really contaminate the water, and the waters that small fish spawn in,
i will say again
gold miners, Pacific Rim, etc.
leave El Salvador now, for your health
these recent posts in regards to water, this is your last warning

my fishermen need fish bait
take it as a threat

and for Michael Free, the Pacific Rim goon that threatened me,
your picture was just supplied to me by the anti mine groups in Canada, haha
water is life
not for gold mines

Tim, you can post this or not
these articles, and posts well, for an old HIPPIE activist,
time to rock and roll
Millneum Account also is under question now by my elected reps in Congress
accountability is an issue
this 460 miilion gos to help in this gold mine situation
leave it in the ground

see Colombia's "Oro Verde' web site

El-Visitador said...

Tim, an article that might otherwise be fine is, unfortunately, sullied and immediately rendered suspect of political bias by quoting partisan hack and immoral hypocrite extraordinaire Navarro.

In particular, the statement "Big enterprises… use the river as a place where they can throw everything." is particularly deceitful and inaccurate.

In El Salvador, the only entities that are forced to build and operate sewer/discharge processing plants are... large enterprises.

Check it out: if you are a formal land developer or business, you absolutely cannot get construction permits unless these include water treatment plants for your discharges.

On the other hand, if you are an informal campesino, or a municicipality of any size, or ANDA, or a shadetreee mechanic, or anybody else in El Salvador who is not a large business... YOU CAN (and do) DUMP YOUR UNTREATED WASTEWATER into the environment.

In my opinion, you were 100% taken in by the partisan hack and its all-too biased enablers at that "bastion of impartiality" known as NPR.

Tim said...


I agree that everyone pollutes in El Salvador, not just commercial enterprises. But you leave out the important fact that the permitting process for industry only began in 1998, and only applies to new businesses after that date. So any business which was dumping before 1998 has not had to stop.

See page 10 of US Army Corps of Engineers 1998 Water Resources Assessment of El Salvador:

Although surface water is plentiful, biological contamination occurs nationwide, especially near heavily populated areas. Except for some primary treatment facilities, mostly near urban areas, all domestic and industrial effluent is released into the rivers and coastal areas without any treatment. According to officials with ANDA, a French-financed project will build two sewage treatment plants for San Salvador, with construction expected to take 2 to 3 years. New regulations have been adopted that will force new industries to remove at least 90 percent of the solids from their effluent prior to discharging into the streams. This regulation does not apply to the numerous existing sources of industrial contamination.

The major source of surface water contamination is from untreated domestic and industrial waste disposal. A 1991 water quality study of southwest El Salvador indicates extreme contamination from fecal matter. The study shows that 45 percent of the sampled water contains more than 9,000 fecal coliform bacteria counts per 100 milliliters of water. Many of these samples show more than 24,000 fecal coliform bacteria counts per 100 milliliters of water. Potable water should not contain any fecal coliform concentrations (i.e., zero fecal coliform bacteria counts per 100 milliliters of water).

Industrial organic waste contamination in the water is primarily from the agricultural industry. Coffee-processing plants, sugar-processing plants, hemp-processing plants, distilleries, tanneries, milk plants, textile factories, and
slaughterhouses are the main sources of industrial water pollution. All surface water sources should be treated before use.

El-Visitador said...

Thanks for the Corps of Engineers article. It was an interesting read, for all the useful information provided in such a compact document.

As an aside, it is also interesting to consider the lengths to which the US armed forces have catalogued and documented our planet, for the benefit of military planners (Preface, p. ii). I'd love to read the equivalent survey of "strategic assets" for the country.

I was employed by one of the largest businesses in ES prior to 1998, and I can confirm first hand two things, with regard to a privately-owned greenfield industrial plant we completed prior to 1998:

(a) We were required to build wastewater facilities by the government. No meeting of the Secretaría Ejecutiva del Medio Ambiente's standards, no construction permits

(b) This enterprise belonging "to the oligarchy" spent over 1.2 million in the construction of the wastewater plant, and the wastewater was cleaner than the intake. It is a myth and a libel that El Salvador's largest businesses skirt our laws. In my experience, these companies might very well be the only ones that actually comply with the laws.

(c) The plant experienced delays and increased costs because of the red tape and time wasted due to the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the government bureacrats from various government buraucracies who meddled and tinkered with our construction designs

All in all, I challenge the assertion that wastewater treatment only became a requirement in 1998, though I agree that it only impacted new development, and not installations operating prior.

This water series is interesting. Cheers,

Anonymous said...

hi i am a student and we are doing a project how do you clean water in el Salvador or what are some different ways to provide clean water?

Anonymous said...

hi i am a student and we are doing a project how do you clean water in el Salvador or what are some different ways to provide clean water?