Water issues for El Salvador
Proposed National Water Law
The current Legislative Assembly dominated by Nayib Bukele's Nuevas Ideas party has formed an Ad Hoc Committee to review a national water law proposed by the Bukele administration. This proposal came after the Assembly removed from discussion drafts of a law on which prior Assemblies had slowly worked for the past several years.
Environmental activists who have been working on the issue for many years have several concerns about the newly proposed law. One of the biggest objections to the bill relates to provisions that would allow a national water authority the power to grant large industrial water users concessions lasting as long as 15 years. Opponents want that term limited to five years. They worry that concessions and public-private partnerships under the law could be a disguised form of privatizing the water resource.
Water activists state the nonnegotiable points which must be included in a new law are:
- Recognition of water as a common good and as a human right.
- Public / state management of water.
- Citizen participation.
- A watershed approach to water resource management.
- Economic and financial equity, guaranteeing that access to water is universal and that no one suffers from the absence of water due to lack of economic resources.
Valle el Angel Mega-Project
Ciudad Valle El Angel is a proposed real estate development which contemplates the construction of 3,500 houses, 3,000 apartments, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, private schools and a bus terminal. The development would rise up northeast of the slopes of the San Salvador volcano near the municipality of Apopa. The development has been opposed for years by a coalition of groups with a special concern about the impact on the important aquifer which lies beneath this zone. I described the project and the environmental concerns in a long piece here in 2019.
Although the environmental ministry (MARN) gave the green light to the project in November 2020, opponents continue to fight on in the courts and in street protests. An environmental court found in February that MARN had not dealt appropriately with environmental impact studies before granting permits, and the courts have repeatedly ruled against MARN when it refused to produce documents to environmental groups. There are currently three petitions pending in El Salvador's Supreme Judicial Court, and it is not known what the impact will be on those petitions from the substitution of high court judges brought about by the Nuevas Ideas-controlled legislature on May 1.
The opponents to Valle El Ángel argue that this mega-project will cause the over-exploitation of already stressed aquifers which provide water for the surrounding region; that the project will prevent the re-charging of the aquifer as large areas of pavement prevent rainwater from infiltrating the soil; that the project will lead to discharge of waste waters into local surface streams; and that it will add to the traffic chaos which already exists in this area of greater San Salvador. In a nation already suffering from severe water stress, the government is granting rights to these private real estate developers to extract water at the rate of 240 liters per second, so they can build a luxury housing project.
When the Legislative Assembly's Ad Hoc Commission studying Bukele's proposed water law heard from business interests, the first to testify were the developers of Valle El Angel according to a report in Diario CoLatino:
The company Desarrolladora Inmobiliaria Urbánica was the first to present its observations on the preliminary draft of the Water Resources Law. “The spirit behind the law is genuine and we celebrate it. It is clear that it has objectives and regulatory frameworks that we see well, "said Federico Rodríguez, planning director of Desarrolladora Inmobiliaria Urbánica.
The priorities and regulatory framework to be established by the proposed water law are likely to determine whether activists' fears of unrestrained development of real estate will come to pass.
Cross-border water pollution from mining
Although El Salvador has passed a law banning metallic mining in the country, its neighbors have not done so. This leaves El Salvador vulnerable to water pollution coming from mines in adjacent countries with rivers that cross national borders into El Salvador. Of particular concern is the Cerro Blanco mine in Guatemala, located a scant 14 kilometers from the Salvadoran border on waterways that empty into the Lempa, El Salvador's most important river.
Environmental activists are therefore pushing legislation and a treaty among the Northern Triangle countries to address the issue of cross-border contamination of rivers and water sources. To date, the Bukele government has not responded to environmentalists' requests to address the issue.
Contamination of Lake Coatepeque
One of El Salvador's natural marvels is Lake Coatepeque. This volcanic crater lake has long been the vacation spot away from the capital for the wealthy classes. But the lake is becoming highly contaminated as pollution, including human waste from restaurants and business, pollute it. Fundación Coatepeque has a description of the many threats now facing the Lake.
Authorities have done nothing to regulate the polluters, despite orders from an environmental court judge. GatoEncerrado has a lengthy report here on the levels of pollution, the restaurants and others contaminating the lake, the expert analyses, and the court which cannot get the municipalities, national government or prosecutors to take any steps to address the problem.
Pollution of the Lempa River
The Lempa River is the longest waterway in El Salvador, finally emptying into the Pacific Ocean in the middle of the coastal plain. This photogallery illustrates the damage to the river's waters from deforestation, industrial sugar cane production and its use of agro-chemicals, and the trash of urban waterways which flow into the river.