The Sustainability Prize


The following is an interview with Marianela Chaves Rivera about her graduation project, “An Integrated Water Resource Management Plan for the Community of San Juan Norte de Poás.” It has been edited for content and clarity.

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I am a Costa Rican. I was born and still live in Poás, in the Central Valley, where my project is based. I am proud of my nationality and at EARTH University I was part of the Costa Rican folkloric dance group. I also belonged to EARTH’s electoral tribunal.

I am the oldest of three. My parents taught us about hard work: to serve, be independent, study and fight for what we want. My grandpa was a farmer, and my dad is surveyor, which is why I have a great love for the land and natural resources.

Before I went to EARTH University, I studied Cartography, Digital Design and Water Resource Management. In my free time I like to walk, run, make crafts, draw, paint, read, garden, visit and learn about new places and things. All of my beliefs and values are mainly based in my faith in Christ, which is my best gift.​​


On the inspiration for the project:

In 2010, I was working in the community at San Juan Norte, Poás in Costa Rica as Secretary for the main board of the aqueduct, which is a group of people that handle issues related to the quality and quantity of water released to the community. San Juan Norte de Poás is a beautiful place near the Poás Volcano, and the community is very organized. However they need support in order to improve their water management system.

In 2013, I went to Ethiopia for an internship and confirmed the value of managing this important resource, because there water is not as available as it is here. Water is the resource that feeds life, ensures the production of food, and helps communities develop.

My idea was to develop a plan to keep the water resources of San Juan Norte de Poás safe, in order to guarantee the continued sustainability of this area. The projects proposed in my report involve economic, social and environmental factors and required teamwork by the entire community.


On the project itself:

The objective of this graduation project is to establish an Integrated Water Resources Management Plan (IWRMP) to support the community of San Juan Norte de Poás in reaching a sustainable path to socioeconomic development while safeguarding water resources in the short, medium and long term. Even though Costa Rica has established policies favoring IWRMP, the process of integration in rural communities has not been outlined. So, by helping to develop IWRMP guidelines, and enhancing their capacity to systematize and operationalize in a comprehensive manner, we can create a set of actions that encourage and depend on community participation and engagement, and ensure continuity. This participatory process explores innovative ideas that bring together issues like food security, agricultural production, soil conservation, education and renewable energy, which are all key issues related to the current and future quality of life for local residents. 

In this project, the National Plan for Integrated Management of Water Resources is taken into account, and linked to the definition of the Global Water Partnership. Twenty-six projects are proposed, mostly defined by community leaders. For example, one of the projects is to collect rainwater for agriculture use or to clean certain areas in the dairy farm. Another project involves the use of micro turbines to generate electricity by way of elevation differences. The plan also seeks to generate conditions that promote competition in the local productive sectors, generating employment opportunities and reducing costs, to create a more equitable wealth distribution while ensuring the financial stability of community organizations.


On highlights of the project and its impact:

The highlight of the project was the high level of community involvement and participation. Community members attended meetings and interviews and participated in a number of scheduled activities. Together, community members identified problems related to water resource management and provided strategies for improvement. Individuals even went to the top of the mountain to view the water sources, deepening their understanding of the importance of this resource and its proper management.

On the project’s continuation:

Last Thursday, I went to talk with the Directors of the Board of the aqueduct and I gave them a copy of the graduation report. The President of the aqueduct is amenable to implementing the project, especially because of the community engagement, but they will need to work to find financial support to organize and develop the projects proposed in the plan. The plan is only a tool to begin the project.


What’s next for you?

In the short term, I would like to find a job that serves the community, to get more experience and pay off my student loans. Also, I will study to improve my English.

In the medium and long term, I would like to launch my own business, perhaps in the field of water management, because I love this topic and the community-oriented work. I have some ideas about best practices and several plans for irrigation and drainage systems. Also, I would like to buy land and start my own integrated farm.

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