El Salvador's water crisis

March 22 was the World Day for Water.    In El Salvador, it was an appropriate day to reflect on a crisis in the availability of clean water.    

According to statistics from the environment ministry (MARN), as reported in La Prensa Grafica, there has been a decline of 27% in the availability of clean water in the country over the past decade.
Why has this happened, when there is a six month rainy season each year?   The problem is that the surface waters in rivers and lakes are contaminated with pollution in much of the watershed that covers El Salvador.   There is the beginning of an effort to clean up the surface waters, but it will be a long time before that effort starts to show results.  The cost of treating contaminated surface water to make it drinkable is quite high.   As a result, much of the potable water used in the country must come from wells which tap the country's underground aquifers.

The country's aquifers are being drained faster than they are being replenished.   The rain water which falls on the surface is not making its way into the aquifers, but instead is running off into rivers and out into the ocean.   Water runs off instead of soaking into the ground because of deforestation, intensive agriculture in sugar cane zones, and because of increased pavement which comes with growing urbanization.  In addition, there is increasing demand for water from industry and from residential areas hooked into water systems supported by wells.      

Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources Lina Pohl agrees that the system for managing the extraction of water from the country's aquifers is quite disorganized and spread across multiple government bodies with many national businesses who don't see why they should comply with rules. Yet for years the country's lawmakers have been unable to pass a proposed General Water Law which would provide a framework for conserving this precious resource needed for all in El Salvador.

To see the water crisis in images, view this LPG photo gallery