Home > Sustainable Land Use > Contour Line Barriers

A Sustainable Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation


The northwestern region of Costa Rica is facing a historic drought that has left many residents with limited access to potable water, leading to protests calling for government intervention. Climate change and the El NiƱo phenomenon is exacerbating the problem.

Proposed responses include building a dam, which would cause extensive damage to delicate ecosystems, or limits to water withdrawals, which would jeopardize sources of income for Guanacaste’s families while addressing only one aspect of the water shortages.

ROW is offering an alternative, sustainable approach to confronting Guanacaste’s water-related challenges – the use of green techniques to capture more rainwater and recharge vital aquifers.

IMG_0131Although 2014 was the province’s driest year since 1937, with about 75% less rain than historic averages, the areas most affected by drought still received 35 inches (890 mm) of rain. We measured 60 inches (1524 mm) in the Nandamojo. In comparison, the wettest U.S. state, Hawaii, receives an average of about 64 inches annually. Guanacaste’s water shortages are not caused just by a lack of precipitation; we believe that not enough rainwater is being captured.

There are simple, effective and proven strategies to increase the percentage of rainfall that recharges groundwater supplies. In 2014, we helped 21 landowners plant living contour line barriers that are one way to do so. They also sequester carbon and improve soil fertility.

Vetiver plus Pacas on SlopeThe idea is catching on, and friends and family members of the original 21 landowners have been reaching out to ROW for assistance in adopting this technique. We’ve helped six more families plant living contour barriers so far in 2015, and we hope to reach ten more before the year ends.

Positive change is happening in our watershed, and ROW’s success will provide a template for other areas in Guanacaste. Follow us on Facebook for updates and pictures as we help Nandamojo residents take control of their future.