Jaramillo Water a relevant update

As some of you know, I am an elected official in Alto Jaramillo, a vocal in the Water District. I think this is both the only elected position a non citizen can have and the lowest elected position anyone can have. I started in the role in May 2009 when the community had a coup, the old water board resigned, a local lady who had them by the throat, lost her voice, she has been trying to regain it for a long time.

It has been a challenging time in this position, because my language skills and politics. But I have learned more Spanish and more about politics. One thing is clear, all the governmental hassles that torture new immigrants have tortured us too; an elected, semi governmental body. Delays, lost files, misplaced original documents, files buried on desks waiting for signatures and unexpected surprises. So if the you feel tortured by the bureaucracy, do not feel alone.

One of those surprises was that the community did not own it’s water supply or rights to its sources, not in La India, nor Cerro Azul, they were both owned by a local lady. She would not relinquish her rights and expected nothing to happen; she was wrong. We also discovered that our new aqueduct project in La India, costing over $100,000US of World Bank money was defective in both design and execution. Add the fact that we discovered the same local lady owned the water rights for that also. In addition the same local lady wanted the community to several hundred dollars to her for “unreimbursed” expenses.

Quietly, the local Water Board has been clearing the table of the problems. The rights to both water sources have been relinquished by the local lady, MINSA the Health Department who has authority over local rural aqueducts forced her to give them back to ANAM, the environmental authority. We, the community, acting through the elected Water Board then applied and paid for the concessions, we have them now, we hope. We have all but the original signed documents that are coming, we hope.

Today we were supposed to take title to our new, repaired World Bank La India Aqueduct, we didn’t because the engineers have not affirmed it is fully functional. Still we have water flowing from it now and soon will have the keys. The claim that the local lady was owed money was dismissed by attorneys from MINSA and now the empress has no clothes, no rights to water and no claim on the community. It has taken a long time to get to here.

When the ceremony for the La India project was canceled I was asked to come to still another meeting with ANAM. This was about Cerro Azul, our original aqueduct. It is not being abandoned. In fact due to the work of the board, a surprise to me, PRODEC is funding a $30,000 enhancement. A new sand filter and new pipe. It appears that in the past when new pipe was installed to expand the aqueduct they used what ever they had so we have a hodgepodge of sizes increasing and expanding. All of this is going to be replaced with one size tube.

Cerro Azul Jaramillo Panama

Today we marched up to Cerro Azul to check the location for the filter, to a get a blessing from ANAM on the project and check on current water supply. It was just what i needed to realize that I can commune with nature and all the spirits just a couple kilometers from my house. I didn’t need a shaman or yogi so enjoy nature. We also realized it is dry season, the stream feeding the aqueduct is drying out.

I therefore need to remind my neighbors that water from the aqueduct is only for household use, not for farm animals, not for irrigation, not for sprinklers or even drip irrigation. It appears that there are people who have no water on a daily basis due to overnight irrigation by other people. The reminder is if you are irrigating and anyone contacts and board member we are obligated by law to shut off your water. Please do not make me a water Nazi. We, the board just have a few more months to go before we are replaced and I hope someone else will step up to the job.

Water, Water, Water but is it fit to drink?

As many know I have spent a great deal of time on water issues in Jaramillo, Boquete Panama. In fact I am a petty elected official, a Vocale on the local Alto Jaramillo water board. I know our water is NOT pure, no mountain spring water is, even if it is in a bottle.

It took this video to pull it all together and make me realize it is time to give up the bottled water habit, even here in Panama.

If you are concerned about your drinking water, filter it. I am moving to a reusable water bottle and adding my own filtered Mountain Stream water from the tap in Alto Jaramillo.


Do you recall the first time you bought a bottle of water? In the past few decades water has filled supermarket shelves and often sells for more per liter than gasoline. Today Coke, Pepsi and a thousand other companies sell water, millions of bottles of plain tap water, well water and river water filtered and supplemented with chemicals. Water is big business, not because there is less of it, but because there is less of it suitable for consumption.
Water, the most abundant substance on the planet is something many of us have take for granted. We need it, we turn on a tap and there it is. That is not so everyplace and certainly not anymore. On Jan 8 2008 the San Francisco Chronicle reported that water is become so scarce farmers are seeing more income in selling their water than planting their fields.

According to the Washington Examiner, August 21 2008, T Boone Pickens, a Texas oil billionaire, sees a profitable future in selling water to a thirsty Dallas Texas.

In 1997 the Word Bank proposed to lend Panama $26.6 million dollars for rural water projects another 9.2 Million for urban projects, $2.2 million for water policy development and $4.0 million for project management. Project ID P082419. On the surface this is a recognition that Panama has a need to improve it’s water delivery systems, it does. We in Boquete all know the sound of a dry tap being turned.

According to the world bank assessment:

“There is a strong legal policy framework in the sector, but de facto there is no national policy on water and sanitation and insufficient coordination among sector stakeholders. Law No. 2 of January 7, 1997,which creates the regulatory and institutional framework for the sector, clearly assigns the sector policy role in the sector to the Ministry of Health (MINSA), and the role of executing budgets and of managing international loans in the sector to the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF). In reality the government does not fulfill most of the functions specified in the law and there are no clear objectives for the sector. Stakeholders intervene in the sector without a common approach or coordination.

The lack of clear “rules of the game” regarding service provision particularly affects small towns and rural areas. Water supply and sanitation in localities with over 1,500 inhabitants is the responsibility of the National Water and Sewer Agency (IDAAN), except for two small municipalities that manage their own systems. Service provision in localities with less than 1,500 inhabitants is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health (MINSA). However, the dividing line between the areas of responsibility of IDAAN
and MINSA actually is far from clear, so that IDAAN intervenes in smaller localities and MINSA in larger ones. This leads to sub-optimal interventions and lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities.”

On November 8 2007 the Loan documents for loan number 7477-PAN for Water supply and sanitation in low income communities project was completed. Panama was given a $32 million dollar loan to improve water, sewage and accounting systems. The world bank expects a return on investment.water002.jpg

Part of the formula for rural systems is involvement of “stakeholders”. The World Bank has learned that without the involvement of the community, the projects often fail. In much of the world the World Bank has involved private companies in the process. In some of those situations the price of water has increased so much as to become unaffordable. A prime example of this is a Bechtel project in Bolivia.

“In November 2001 Bechtel sued the country of Bolivia for $25 million for canceling a contract to run the water system of Cochabamba, the third largest city in the country, after local people took to the streets to protest massive price hikes for water.

The worst clashes occurred in February 2000, when President Hugo Banzer of called out more than 1,000 police to crush demonstrations with tear gas and rubber bullets, leaving one 17 year old boy dead and hundreds injured.

Aguas de Tunari, the local water company which supplies an estimated 500,000 people in the region, was being managed at the time under a newly awarded 40 year contract by International Water Limited, a subsidiary of Bechtel corporation of San Francisco, the construction multinational.

Bechtel was given the contract as a result of the World Bank’s aggressive pressure campaign on Bolivia to privatize state enterprises. “Bank water officials believe in privatization – the way other people believe in Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, and Buddha,” says Jim Schultz, an activist from California who lives in Cochabamba where he runs an organization named the Democracy Center.”

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have pushed privatization and rate increases in other Latin American countries such as Nicaragua. On August 22 2008, “IFC Executive Vice President and CEO Lars Thunell said today an opportunity is emerging for the public and private sectors to collaborate on solutions to the world’s critical water and sanitation challenges.”

“Investors see an opportunity in the $450 billion global water sector: stocks in that sector are performing strongly worldwide. Private firms also regard water supply as a business risk and are tackling it as an integral part of their risk-management strategy.”

Water is big money and big money wants to control our water.

What is the real cost of accepting a loan from the World Bank?

Panama has taken the money, Panama is spending the money, if Panama cannot repay the money are we going to see the water concessions in Panama sold to the highest bidder? If you are a free market believer this is not a bad thing, if you are earning $50 a week on Jaramillo how much can you afford to pay for water, Panama’s most abundant resource?

Within the World Bank agreement with Panama there is an allocation for renewing billing and accounting systems. Also a clause to allow interaction with private operators, review of needs to increase fees and for rate differentiation between client groups.

Who will own Panama’s water in the future, the people of Panama? Or will we see rates increase and water from Panama filling tankers and sailing off to foreign shores willing to pay $2 a liter for pure mountain water from Panama?
If you think this is a fantasy, this is from La Estrella, August 1 2009.

“PANAMA. While Panama city and other areas battle with flood waters, Chiriqui struggles to maintain drinking water rights over the demand to create and export electricity.

The fight continued this week as IDAAN’s provisional director in Chriqui, Guillermo Ardila, tried to negotiate a deal with a hydroelectric company to ensure sufficient water is available to satisfy the city of David’s needs in the summer.

For the past two years David has suffered severe water shortages between November and May compounding difficulties that persist year round due to IDAAN’s out-of-date and inadequate water supply infrastructure.

Ardila told the Panama Star that he was asking the hydro-electric company, Saltos de Francoli, to consider allowing IDAAN to extract one cubic meter of the water for every fourteen cubic meters that will flow through their turbines generating electricity to be sold abroad.

According to the terms of the concession contract between ANAM and Saltos de Francoli, the company has permanent rights to a volume of 292,075,200 cubic meters per year, for which they pay annually $3,095.99 to ANAM.”

This means the people of David may be thirsty this year, especially in a year of El Nino and drought.

Water, Water, Water again

In the past two weeks I have learned more about Boquete Panama than in the past three years. We call it waterboarding, self imposed torture with a message. When I raised my hand and agreed to be a vocale on the Alto Jaramillo water board I thought I was volunteering for an occasional meeting; wrong.

In the past several months we have met with MINSA several times, met together once and walked the hills now for two consecutive Sundays doing a census. Jaramillo2.jpg

When I say walked the hills I mean, walked, up and down, under barbed wire, across farms and down roads. The members of this Directiva are serious about gathering information and informing the community. Jose, Maria Elisa and Magda led the march today. We left my car just off the road as you are leaving Alto Jaramillo and started to walk.

We encountered families both wealthy and poor. We enjoyed a lunch of chicken and rice at Maria Elisa’s house.

We recorded information from all and by the time 2 pm hit we were all ready to call it a day. In three years here I have never seen some of the paths we walked. This is a diverse community made up of warm welcoming people who cross all boundaries.

Next week we do the third and final sector, the road I live on. Then waterboarding will go back to meetings so we can evaluate the data collected and reach some decisions.

Jaramillo Water Wars

Water wars in Alto Jaramillo, Boquete Panama are of themselves not worth anther post. However the knowledge gained and experiences in the battles are worthy of comment. Especially when many people are negative about the way they perceive expat treatment in Panaman government hands.

Our can of worms opened when the local water Directiva decided “expats” should pay more for water. In a series of secret meetings they set a rate of $1.50 a month for “Panamanians” and $10 a month for “others”. They also decided “new residents” needed to pay $150 hookup fee while locals pay $40. I and others in the community objected and we were shut down in efforts to have a public vote on something clearly illegal under Panama’s constitution.

In March the Alto Jaramillo Directiva resigned and after an effort to elect a new group hostile to the discrimination the wars began. Yesterday this battle finally ended. At a community meeting of eighty one families the new Directiva was ratified and installed.

There were objections by four people one of who challenged people based on residency and citizenship. The representatives of MINSA, the Health Department which is in charge of rural aqueducts in Panama, addressed the layers of misinformation and the FUD factor in Jaramillo. The result was a resounding vote of support from the community for the new Directiva.

Lessons for those of you in other Boquete Rural water districts.

Your Directiva can create new regulations but they must be approved by a vote of the community at a semi annual or extra ordinary meeting. The Directiva must meet monthly and can make decisions within the MINSA regulations and publicly approved local regulations. The Directiva cannot impose it’s will on users through private meetings and cannot raise rates, etc without public hearing and approval. It is illegal to charge you more money based upon citizenship, ethnicity or the language you speak.

When you pay your water bill insist on a receipt from your local water district. Checks should be made to the District not a private individual. MINSA is conducting an audit in Alto Jaramillo now and if you have paid an individual and do not have a proper receipt you might want to let someone know about it.

All residents in the district can vote regardless of citizenship. Non citizen residents can serve on the Directiva as Vocales. We have a voice in our community and the officials from MINSA were enforced the law.

MINSA in Boquete will step in as they did in Jaramillo if their involvement is requested. What was impressive on Jaramillo was the single voice from the entire community, English and Spanish speaking.

We have issues in front of us, issues with the new aqueduct serving Alto Jaramillo and Jaramillo Central but at least now we have voice and are learning our legal rights in Panama.

One important footnote and recommendation. In our battle we sought legal advice and received it from a local Boquete lawyer, Julio Espinosa, he has been on top of the entire situation and has helped considerably so if your community is heading into a water war email me for his telephone number.

Jaramillo Water World Follies

Over the past year I have posted multiple times about the Alto Jaramillio, Boquete Panama Water Junta.
July 18, 2008
September 2008
March 4 2009

To pickup where we left off in March the newly elected water Junta called a meeting for March 17 to take office. We the people who helped elect this incoming junta had high hopes for change. The change happened, but not as we anticipated. The persistent local woman, called Radio Chiriqui and cancelled the meeting to “prevent the spread of flu” and two of the officers who resigned in March decided they did not enjoy retirement and were un-resigning.

Why do I bore you with this ramble?

This is a wonderful example of the type of curious frustration experienced in Panama. It is a trivial thing to many, $120 a year for water is less than I paid per month in Tucson. It is a major thing to others. Why do I pay $120 when my neighbor, his family, his horses, his cattle and his garden pay $18?

Why are some families here being threatened with water cut off because they cannot pay $18 a year, others because they refuse to pay $120? Why when the treasurer of the current junta shows a bank balance near $5,000 are the rates set at $18 a year not the previous $12? $18 is too much for many local families?

It is a lesson in Panamanian democracy, or perhaps lack of Panamanian democracy, on a very local level. An elected board meeting behind closed doors, enacting illegal regulations and then changing them in secret to make them appear legal. All these meetings done with the influence of an unelected local woman and without even notifying an elected junta member who would object.

Some of us on the mountain have refused to pay the higher water rate. The old board somehow lead by the “local woman” has notifiedresisdents their water will be cut off on June 1st for failure to pay. Monday we will start the response of “thousands for defense but not one cent for tribute” . Meetings with local officials, lawyers and then political maneuvering to find out whether a local woman, not even a resident in our district can manipulate our water world.

Many people here are yawning about this, many have paid. As I explained to any who ask this is not an issue of money is it an issue of democratic process, discrimination and extortion. This next week will be an excellent lesson is pushing through the local bureaucracy or being stymied by it. Either way the lesson will be worth the effort, not just for those who refuse to pay $120 a year but also for those who cannot pay $18 a year.

Time will tell if anything positive occurs before the June 1st pipe cutting ceremony. If not I might be looking for a well driller and a hot shower.

Water in Jaramillo Boquete Panama

Being in Panama as a Pensionado I am guest in this country not invited or wanted involved in politics. There is one exception I have discovered the politics of water. IDAAAN the national water system is not involved in the water supply in Boquete Panama. There are certainly many who might want them involved if they could actually solve the perennial problem of taps that open to emptiness.

Boquete has chosen a different path, separate rural water districts, each operating under a MINSA resolution number 28 of 31 January 1994. Two of these districts Jaramillo Centro and Alto Jaramillo have entered a combined project designed to keep the water flowing for some time to come.

Through the past two Presidencies a local woman, Adela Caballero has worked to obtain funding for an expanded local aqueduct system. On 17 July 2007 Panama received a World Bank loan project P082419, $26,600,000USD were provided to MINSA the Ministry of Health to improve rural water supply, sanitation and Hygiene. From that fund the Jaramillo Aqueduct was born. A $192,000 project with 90%, the material cost being provided as a grant from MINSA and labor valued at $19,200 provided by the Jaramillo community.

At the Alto Jaramillo water meeting in early 2008 the community was informed of the project and told we needed to either contribute in labor or in dollars to the completion of the project. The newly elected water committee was saddled with the project and told we needed it or Jaramillo would follow in the shadow of Alto Boquete and other areas that have severe water problems. Even though the meeting was a true lesson in community democracy all the decisions had already been made and there was no real detailed information offered or provided after several more meetings the facts were totally unclear except for these, each household would need to contribute $100 or ten days for labor toward the project. That would fulfill the $19,200 local contribution to the funding.

In addition a new water rate schedule was announced that penalized “extranjero” Expat members of the community by charging them more for water than local people. There has been a great deal of discussion in the Jaramillo community about this project and the new rate structure.

Questions include, why is the rate structure for water unfair, why did we need the aqueduct when massive upgrades were done just two years ago, who will own the system when it is done, why is the water being taken from seven kilometers up La India not a closer source and when it is all complete when happens next.

As the discussion continued local people mostly from Alto Jaramillo and several extranjeros have been busy moving people, feeding people, moving material and building the project.

There has also been a local effort led by Ruby McKenzie, Elizebeth Worley and their employees, Rosa, Jesus and Alexis to do fund raising to help local people who cannot work or pay $100. This project has earned about $700 so far.

The project is getting close to completion and now thanks to the efforts of mostly the Alto Jaramillo community we have real answers from a primary source to the many questions about this aqueduct project.

On 30 August a small community meeting was held in the offices of Boquete Highlands Realty with Mario Moreno of MINSA the man in charge of all rural aqueduct projects in Chiriqui, the Representante for Jaramillo and several members of the Jaramillo community, both English and Spanish speakers.

Here is a summary of what we now know and what we still do not know.

The existing Alto Jaramillo water system was sufficient for current and short term future community needs except that it did not meet new MINSA standards for water purity and was not being maintained. The Centro Jaramillo system is totally inadequate and could not supply community needs. Instead of installing a new system for Centro Jaramillo alone it was decided to install one system for both communities. This of course does not address the maintenance issues which center on valves being stolen.

The new system has a 13,000 gallon holding tank and will chlorinate the water. The source was selected by both the previous water board and MINSA for it’s capacity, purity and year round availability.

Once the system is complete the contractor will turn it over to MINSA which will then turn it over to the local water committees. Each household in both districts must provide either $100 or ten days of labor to the project. Once the system is turned over to the Alto Jaramillo Junta MINSA will supervise a new legal rate document.

The issue of higher water rates for extrenjeros was discussed and the official from MINSA explained that the outgoing water board passed these rates without consulting MINSA and that despite the fact it is illegal to charge more based on national origin nothing can be done until the community votes to change the rates. He promised this will happen with MINSA involvement after the aqueduct is competed and transferred to the community.

There is a great deal of community participation in the completion of this project. I would like to thank Jim Seltzer, Kent and Phyllis McNaughton, Ruby McKenzie Dave Ryan, Glen Bolstom, Elizebeth Worley and Rhody Edwards and any others I am not aware of for becoming involved with labor, transportation and food. This effort has really made a positive impact on the local community.

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