Comprehensive water quality monitoring, a detailed atlas, and a community environmental education program are scientific studies in the Pacuare watershed proposed to the Rivers and Forests Alliance (RAFA) for 2022.
Earlier this year, RAFA partnered with the Costa Rica National Alliance for Rivers and Watersheds (ANRCCR) to create the Scientific-Technical Commission for Scientific Research and Integrated Management of the Pacuare River Basin. The 11 members of the commission include well-respected biologists, environmental engineers, experts in water sciences, and a cartographer, in addition to RAFA and ANRCCR staff.
One of RAFA’s focuses includes scientific investigation to show the Pacuare river basin’s importance for conservation. We can better form conservation and regeneration plans with up-to-date data about the Pacuare watershed’s current status.
Pacuare River Water Quality Monitoring Program
Flowing from high in Costa Rica’s Talamanca Mountains through dense jungle, the Pacuare River travels 136 km (84.5 miles) to the Caribbean Sea, where endangered sea turtles come to nest along the black volcanic sandy beaches. It is one of Costa Rica’s most acclaimed rivers for its scenic beauty and is revered by whitewater paddling enthusiasts.
The 914 km2 (353 sq. mi.) river basin contains towns, rural communities, indigenous communities and lands, agricultural farms, cattle ranches, and banana plantations in the lower section. Threats include possible future hydroelectric power expansion, population growth, pollution, illegal hunting, deforestation, and habitat degradation.
“From a hydrological point of view, this river and its basin constitute a vast agro-landscape of complex but fascinating analysis,” said hydrologist Christian Golcher Benavides, Ph.D., in charge of Watershed Management for the Water Research Center for Central America and the Caribbean (HIDROCEC).
To establish a baseline picture of the Pacuare watershed’s environmental health, Golcher proposes a permanent water quality monitoring program. A system of 10 to 13 strategically placed stations will monitor anthropogenic pressures in the river basin’s upper, middle, and lower sections to its mouth in the Caribbean Sea.
“The Pacuare River in Costa Rica is a world-famous free-flowing river that supports tourism and agriculture economies and is home to Cabecar indigenous peoples. Given the river’s importance across these sectors and to the biodiversity that depends on its life-sustaining water, understanding how humans are impacting the water quality is vitally important,” agreed commission member Denielle Perry, water resource geographer and Assistant Professor at Northern Arizona University in the School of Earth and Sustainability.
Mapping the Pacuare River Basin
Cartographer Walter Pereira Vargas proposes a complete cartographic survey of the Pacuare river basin to create a detailed thematic atlas. Mapping and understanding a watershed can help identify problem areas and management opportunities and foster awareness about watershed issues. For example, maps can show how much deforestation has expanded or reversed.
Pereira plans to use information obtained through Geographic Information Systems (GIS), satellite and aerial images, official cartography from the National Geographic Institute, and in-person field verification. The project also plans to study land use, road access, and geomorphologic, geologic, and climatological information. The survey will be generated for the entire hydrographic basin and by sub-basin.
“The generation of information at different scales and levels in an atlas will allow the Pacuare River Scientific Commission and others to know the real state of the basin comprehensively,” explained Pereira.
Pereira worked with Rafael Gallo in 2019 to create maps for the commercial rafting section of the Pacuare River for an emergency evacuation plan. The proposed Pacuare Atlas is planned to be available in print and digital formats.
Community Environmental Education
Environmental education is the key to integrating the scientific investigation projects, say biologist and geographer Ricardo Valverde Sánchez and tropical biologist Jonathan Navarro Picado.
The third project proposes strengthening conservation longevity in the Pacuare river basin and regeneration of degraded environments through participation and direct leadership of area communities.
“This participatory and community approach will enable the coordination necessary to implement initiatives for sustainable resource management in the Pacuare river basin,” explain Valverde and Navarro in their proposal.
In particular, the project proposes reforestation and permaculture practices in the Pacuare river basin.