Workshop at Stanford University: May 3, 2013

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment


"Ecological Design of Dams: The Diquis & Savegre Hydroelectric Projects in Costa Rica."

Costa Rica is considering a number of large infrastructure projects in the southern part of the country. These projects include two large hydroelectric projects that drain into wetlands, the Diquis and Savegre projects.

The Diquis Hydroelectric Project is the largest, with an expected investment of over $2-3 billion. It is the product of several decades of research, and it includes several ecological design characteristics. This 631 MW project would create a 6800 hectares reservoir, and it would require about 750 hectares in two indigenous reserves. Costa Rica is a signatory to ILO Treaty 169, and therefore the government must promote a transparent and representative consultation process. This has not happened yet, and the Costa Rican government created a Diquis Commission, headed by Vice President Alfio Piva, to define who should be consulted and to oversee the process.

An important aspect of this initiative is that Costa Rica is not merely aiming for the minimum acceptable standards for the project, but instead will focus on how to generate the best possible social and environmental outcomes for all the stakeholders involved. In this sense the initiative will focus on better or more intelligent approaches and designs, where applicable, and also on how these infrastructure projects can provide benefits and development opportunities to local populations.

The Diquis project will discharge approximately 200 cubic meters per second of water into the Grande de Terraba river during the dry season, ten miles upstream from major mangroves, which are protected under the Ramsar Convention. During the dry season the river will have a normal flow of 40 to 50 cubic meters per second, so the project will have a significant impact in shifting the hydrograph and salinity profiles of the river which could ultimately affect the productivity of the mangrove.

In the specific case of the Diquis project, special consideration should be given to the fact that this is a protected area under the Ramsar Convention, so in addition to the national legislation, the project must also satisfy the mandates of this convention. Signatories to this treaty are able to make changes to the areas that they have designated, but justification and potential compensation alternatives must be considered.

The Osa and Golfito Initiative, a program of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, is currently undertaking a case study on the Diquis Dam. Since the proposed dam on the Savegre River shares many characteristics of the Diquis Dam, the Savegre will also be included in the workshop.


Objectives of the Workshop

The workshop had three main objectives:

  1. Examine relevant lessons from the ecological design of dams and minimization of environmental impacts, with a particular emphasis on hydrological and water quality modeling needed to attempt to predict potential damages mangroves.

  2. Analyze the legal implications and options open to Costa Rica under the Ramsar Convention .

  3. Explore options for operational changes to hydroelectric projects (e.g., the possibility of shutdown during certain periods at night) to reduce the impacts on mangroves and other ecological impacts. 

The workshop summary and associated presentations and documents have been added to the Diquis and Terraba-Sierpe Dam Case Study tab.