Background Gradient

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a small country in Central America with a population of around 5 million people and wide availability of water and biodiversity. Costa Rica can be subdivided into three main regions: the central region characterized by its high volcanoes and temperate climate, the Caribbean characterized by its high rainfall and the Pacific region characterized by a drier climate. Therefore, despite having a relatively small territory, its diversity of reliefs and ecosystems generate certain challenges in water management.

Household surveys provide us with representative data of the entire population, validated by statistical institutes and that allow cross-checking with other social statistics such as area, income, and gender. The 2020 National Household Survey was applied to 8,124 representative households and collects some data on water in their household surveys in accordance with the WHO / UNICEF guidelines, including the fact that it is one of two surveys in the region that asks on the treatment of septic tanks. However, the survey does not provide metrics to estimate non-piped improved water sources, as well as improved latrines, making it difficult to accurately estimate SDGs 6.1 and 6.2.

For more information on why OLAS uses household surveys, click here.

Data sources:

Progress Towards Measuring SDG 6


Access to water and sanitation in Costa Rica varies significantly between urban and rural areas, with urban households having much higher levels of access. Approximately 27% of Costa Ricans live in rural areas.

Inequality in Costa Rica is evident when viewing the income quintiles through the 2020 National Household Survey. For example, an average inhabitant of a household in the highest quintile obtains an average income 19 times higher than that of the lowest quintile.

Average monthly household income by quintile (in local currency 2020)


Urbanization rate



Water access

Water access

Most Costa Ricans live in urban areas with high levels of access to improved water sources, while Costa Ricans living in rural communities face more challenges. The urban / rural division is the highest indicator of having piped water, with 99% of urban households with piped water (to the home or the land). In contrast, only 88% of rural homes have piped water (to the home or land). However, there is not that much difference between the access of the various income quintiles (~93% for the lowest quintile, 99% for the highest quintile).

Split data by:

Water Access Data by Quintile and Access Area

The above sankey diagram shows water access data broken down by by location of access to water (urban/rural), income quintile and type of access to water. When hovering over the diagram, the number displayed shows the ratio of respondents that fit into the category on the right that come from the category on the left.

Sanitation Access

Sanitation Access

The National Household Survey does not collect data specifying whether latrines are improved or not. This distinction is a requirement within the JMP scale for classifying sanitation services as basic or safe.

Most Costa Rican households tend to have access to improved sanitation services, but most of them rely on septic tanks, even in urban areas. In fact, 71% of urban households use septic tanks compared to 28% that are connected to sewers, which makes Costa Rica the country that most uses septic tanks as a sanitation solution in the region. According to the ENH, only 0.2% of households state that they do not have access to sanitation facilities.

Split data by:

Sanitation Data by Quintile and Access Area

The above sankey diagram shows sanitation access data broken down by community, income quintile and type of facility. When hovering over the diagram, the number displayed shows the ratio of respondents that fit into the category on the right that come from the category on the left.

Water Resources

Water Resources

Water Availability

Costa Rica has extensive surface and groundwater resources with 34 watersheds and a water volume of approximately 113.1 km3/year, of which 73 km3 correspond to surface runoff and about 40 km3 to natural aquifer recharge. In addition, 7% of the national territory is covered by wetlands. With the update of the wetlands inventory, nearly 2,000 units have been identified in three conservation areas. Each Costa Rican has an average of 23,405 m3 of water per year, which varies according to: rainfall distribution (Atlantic or Pacific slope), population concentration, water uses and events related to climate change.

Water Stress

Costa Rica has medium-low water stress. Despite the obligation by law to have a concession to use water, there is evidence that there is illegal use (use of water without a concession and/or non-compliance with assigned flows) throughout the country. This problem worsened after the drought periods of 2014 and 2015, thus affecting the availability of water for human consumption, agriculture and livestock, and tourism.

Wastewater Treatment

In Costa Rica, only 30% of households are connected to the sewer system, and of these only 8% are connected to a public wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) and 6% to a private WWTP. The 69% of the population that has a septic tank does not have a complementary wastewater treatment system.

Water and Sanitation Management

Water and Sanitation Management

Institutional Framework

In the drinking water and sanitation sector in Costa Rica, the functions of regulation, oversight, allocation of water concessions, monitoring of water quality and sanitation, among others, are assigned to government entities. These services are provided by the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA), the main operator in the country and the main operator of the other operators: municipalities, the Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia S. A. (ESPH), the Comités de Servicios Públicos de Heredia S. A. (ESPH), and the municipalities. (ESPH), the Comités Administradores de Acueductos Rurales (CAAR) and the Asociaciones Administradoras de Sistemas de Acueductos y Alcantarillados Sanitarios (ASADAS).

Regulatory Framework

Costa Rica has an important regulatory framework that regulates the protection, extraction, use, and efficient management of water resources separately. There are approximately one hundred and twenty laws and decrees that empower sector entities to perform functions or activities related to water management.

The main normative bodies are as follows:

  • Costa Rica’s Political Constitution of 1949
  • Water Law (Law No. 276 of 1942)
  • General Health Law (Law No. 5395 of 1973)
  • General Law of Potable Water (Law No. 1634 of 1953)
  • Organic Law of the Environment (Law No. 7554 of 1995).
  • Municipal Code (Law No. 7794 of 1998)
Development Programs and Plans

In Costa Rica there are different programs and policies in the water and sanitation sector:

  • National Program for the Improvement and Sustainability of the Quality of Drinking Water Services (PNMSCSAP)
  • National Drinking Water Policy (PNAP)
  • National Policy on Wastewater Sanitation (PNSAR)
  • National Integrated Water Resources Management Plan (PNGIRH)
  • Basic Rural Sanitation Program (SANEBAR)