TBY talks to Yamileth Astorga, President of the Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers (AyA), on the challenges of providing high-quality potable water and working to prevent a water deficit.

Yamileth Astorga
Yamileth Astorga has been President of AyA since 2014. With experience in the field of water resources for about 30 years, she has worked as an academic, researcher, and consultant for various national institutions and organizations for more than 20 years. She holds a degree in marine biology and a master's of science in environmental sanitation, with a specialization in ecotoxicology from the State University of Ghent in Belgium.

How is AyA working to supply a more efficient service in order to facilitate more investment in the country?

AyA is the technical rector in potable water supply and sanitation services, as well as an operator. The figure itself is a little different; however, that was the way it was approved by law in 1961. We serve over 50% of the population, and we have delegated 28% coverage by means of community associations—we call these groups ASADAS. ASADAS cover 28%, and local governments cover another 15%. Thus, Costa Rica has a total water supply coverage of 99%. From this 99%, we supply 87% as potable water. We have high quality safe potable water that is attractive for foreign investors. There are few places throughout the country where an investor or tourist does not find potable water. However, over the last three years, we have had fairly tough challenges. We have suffered a continuous drought; many of the sources of water that we use, regardless of AyA or ASADAS, were affected by El Niño, and we had considerable reductions in flow of 50-60%. There have been important investments throughout the country on projects to expand the intake of new water sources in order to avoid a water deficit.

How is AyA contributing to the simplification of procedures regarding permits?

We have a commitment to the Ministry of Economy to simplify procedures and have been complying with each of the steps of this simplification process. Another important aspect was that previously, all the paperwork was done in person at the office; now many procedures are digital. There are still complaints, and there are things that should be able to be resolved more quickly. We have also been doing a series of training workshops, especially in regional offices, in order to better explain the regulation's scope and interpretation. Now, we have clear rules and with these rules anyone can come and invest in a more secure and reliable way.
What projects or international alliances does AyA have to promote the institution's improvement?
We are in the Central American Forum for Potable Water and Sanitization (FOCARD) and are present in international platforms such as the Sanitation Water for All (SWA). We have projects with Korea, Canada, Tunisia, and Ghana focused on sustainable development objectives, where we share information on how we are working to reach these objectives. We have positive relations with the Public Services Company of Medellín, Colombia and with the Public Services Company of São Paulo (SABESTI) in Brazil. From the Spanish cooperation agency, we received a donation of USD20 million to build communal aqueducts.

How is AyA promoting the proper and efficient use of water?

There is still much to be done, especially in terms of climate change and sanitization. A few years ago, Costa Rica was ranked fifth in the Yale University Environmental Performance Index. Then, in 2015, we went down to 54th because the index started to include water treatment infrastructure capacities. We have been making improvements and are now at 48th. We are working with the Ministry of Environment and Energy and the Ministry of Health on defining a sanitation policy for AyA and other operators. We have a program for sanitation in the Metropolitan Area of San José for USD345 million. Also, there is a program for sanitation in priority cities for USD175 million. We are setting the program, the policy, and the investment plan and have worked on creating a National Direction of Sanitation. We have specialized engineers focused exclusively on sanitation systems design and feasibility studies. We also have a major project of around USD300 million, funded with the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, in conjunction with the German KfW Development Bank. It is a project of reduction of non-revenue water. In Costa Rica we have a 50% rate of not-revenue water, which is high. It is not necessarily caused by leaks, but also by updating cadastre records. This project is in full execution now.