Sunday, April 10, 2016

Reshaping the Environment: Benefits and Side Effects in and Around Palo Verde by Katherine Bryan

OTS Palo Verde Biological Station, Costa Rica: Admittedly, upon arriving at the Palo Verde Biological Station, my first thought was, “It’s so hot and dry!  How can anything or anyone live here?” This tropical dry forest certainly lives up to its name; recent droughts have sucked our home of one week even drier than usual. As we learned in class, the volcanic mountain range that runs down Costa Rica divides the nation into different climatic zones and creates a discrepancy in water resources. The Caribbean Coast receives an excess of rainfall, while Palo Verde on the Pacific Coast is parched. This is clearly problematic for the rice and sugarcane farmers in Guanacaste who rely on water to irrigate their crops. 
            In the 1970s, the Costa Rican government sought to distribute water to the Pacific Coast by embarking on the Lake Arenal Hydroelectric Project.  A canal system now moves water from the Atlantic slope to a reservoir, and then to the Pacific, where it supplies people with water for personal use and crop irrigation.  Generally, I think it was a smart decision to transfer an excess, unused resource to an area lacking it. The system makes it possible for humans to survive in the hot and dry climate. As an added benefit, the water flow powers hydroelectric dams and provides clean energy for the country. 
However, reshaping the environment is like prescribing medication; even if it serves its original purpose, it may have unintended side effects. Now that the Pacific Coast has an increased quantity of water, the “mountain effect” is increasing humidity as well. Further, agricultural irrigation results in pesticide-ridden runoff contaminating the Tempisque River, which has negative impacts on wildlife and human health. What will happen to the crocodiles, monkeys, and plethora of herons we saw on the riverboat ride if their habitat changes?
            This made me consider the following questions: To what extent should humans alter the environment to suit our needs? How can we make responsible decisions when we cannot fully predict the outcomes? And, more importantly, when altering the environment, can we ever really go back?
            Back home in Los Angeles, we face a severe ecological problem caused by diverting water from the Colorado River. We’ve created a livable sprawl of green lawns where sand dunes once stood. Now, we’re too reliant on the dwindling “stolen” water supply to give it up. 
            I’m glad that researchers working with OTS are carefully monitoring the environment in Palo Verde. Hopefully, the knowledge they gain can continue to protect the region’s biodiversity and prevent a situation like the one in Los Angeles.

1 comment: