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Pacific lots of Costa Rica
(506) 2223-1327              Published Thursday, July 15, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 138        E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Rainfall predictions
La Niña expected to bring lots of wet weather here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacific coast and the Central Valley could be in for a rainy year, thanks to La Niña, the weather phenomenon in the western ocean.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional is predicting rain from 20 to 45 percent above average this year along the Pacific coast. However, the Caribbean will see somewhat less than the annual average, said the institute.

In the north Pacific, the prediction is for 3,000 millimeters (118 inches) of rain, some 930 millimeters (36.6 inches) more than the annual average. That's 45 percent more rain.

For the Central Pacific the prediction is for 5,070 millimeters (about 200 inches) of rain, some 1,450 millimeters (57 inches)  above the annual average or 40 percent more.

The southern Pacific is expected to get 4,380 millimeters (172.5 inches), some 730 millimeters (about 28 inches) above average. The prediction is for 20 percent more rain.

The Central Valley also is facing more rain, according to the predictions. The average yearly rainfall there is 2,350 millimeters (92.5 inches). The prediction calls for 3,175 millimeters (125 inches) or 825 millimeters more. That's 35 percent more rain.

The northern zone is expected to get 185 millimeters (about 7 inches) more than the yearly average of 3,760 millimeters (148 inches) or a modest 5 percent more.

The northern Caribbean coast with a prediction of 3,600 millimeters (142 inches) and the southern Caribbean coast with a prediction of 2,400 millimeters (about 95 inches) are both lower than the annual average. For the northern Caribbean that is 190 millimeters or 5 percent. For the southern coast the prediction of 2,400 millimeters is 425 millimeters (about 17 inches) or 15 percent below the average.
Following the rapid dissipation of El Niño in early May, cool-neutral to weak La Niña conditions have developed in the tropical Pacific. These conditions are more likely than not to strengthen into a basin-wide La Niña over the coming months, according to the El Niño/La Niña Update issued last week by the World Meteorological Organization. Predictions by the Costa Rican weather institute support this conclusion.

The agency said it expected the La Niña phenomenon to be fully consolidated by the end of the month.

At the same time the Caribbean is showing temperatures greater than any time in the last 150 years, said the institute. The agency issued a bulletin at the end of June and followed up with a press conference Wednesday.

The agency said that the period from July through September would be very rainy on the Pacific.

The higher water temperatures in the Caribbean and the Atlantic were measured between April 21 and May 5. The temperature was 1.7 degrees C above the average. The temperature approaches 30 degrees C or about 86 F. The Atlantic exercises a moderating influence on Costa Rica, but higher temperatures are conducive to stronger storms.

By mid-June, the sea-surface temperatures had decreased to approximately 0.5 degrees C below normal over the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, near the borderline of La Niña conditions. Further, below average sea temperatures exist beneath the surface of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific.  Forecast models continue to predict further decreases in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific sea-surface temperature, said the World Meteorological Organization, a U.N. agency.

The Costa Rican weather experts base their rainfall estimates on a number of prediction models. About 80 percent of them support the predictions of more rain, the institute said.

Also being used is data from the United States.

Here's the statistics of rainfall by regions for the first six months of the year. The Pacific coast seems well on its way to  a rainy year. 100 millimeters equals 3.94 inches.
first half rainfall
Instituto Meteorológico Nacional/A.M. Costa Rica

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Angel to home for elderly,
Donlon Havener dies at 91

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Donlon Havener could turn a bus load of sleepy expats into a rolling party, particularly if the vehicle was on the way to the
home for unwanted adults in La Rita de Guápiles.

Havener was an expert at rounding up potential expat donors and taking them to the project he loved, the Tom and Norman Home. Havener would act like a game show host and hold raffles and contests on the bus trip, most likely using his own money for prizes.

But there was no chance of failing to understand his goal.
Donlon Havener
Donlon Havener
He wanted the expats to enjoy the trip and continue to support the home for the unwanted elderly and the Angel of Love Foundation that operated it.

Havener, 91 when he died Tuesday, successfully kept the money coming in and the home open even when high interest operations that benefitted many expat donors collapsed in 2002. Havener also fought the local municipality to keep the home open when officials wanted to apply nursing home standards. He helped distribute a video of the home and encouraged many annual fund-raising operations. He made frequent visits even lately when his health began to fail.

In fact, Havener sometimes was called the guardian angel of the foundation, but he was much more. A summary provided by friends and family said that he graduated college in 1940 and earned a master's at a university in New York in 1941. Four years in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Pacific Theater followed, and he was reported to be among the first U.S. troops to enter bomb ravaged Hiroshima.

He taught at Syracuse University and in México where he spent nearly 20 years. Havener taught at the University of the Americas and was for 17 years director of the Mexico City Center of Bilingual Studies, said the summary. He founded and was president of the Lowell School, Mexico’s first finishing school.

Havener returned to the United States to head up a bilingual program for The Mount Vernon School in Westchester County, New York. In 1971 he accepted a position at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, where he worked as professor, department head and interim rector until his retirement in 1989. That is when he came to Costa Rica.

The Tom and Norman Home originally was set up to help AIDS sufferers when the government health services did not. Later it became an unusual home for the elderly.

Only those without funds and abandoned by their family could live there. One resident was found living under a piece of tin. Havener was able to identify and help an elderly woman who was a U.S. citizen. Through his help she began to receive the Social Security checks she deserved.

The home started as a barn and gradually grew, mostly under Costa Rican director Alexis Barquero Benavides. Barquero wrote a tribute under Havener's obituary in the Oneida, New York, Daily Dispatch, for whom until recently Havener wrote a column. "Today we have lost a friend, a brother, but above all a father for us," he said

Also signing the Spanish-language tribute were a number of residents and community supporters of the home.

According to the newspaper, Havener is survived by a daughter, Mary Agnes Drisgula and two grandchildren of New York; two cousins from Oneida, Becky Karst and Bob Staudt; a cousin, Ella Mae Johns from Verona Beach, New York, and numerous Havener cousins from all over the United States.

There was no local information on funeral or memorial services, but cremation is expected.

New law on trash prompts
ceremony at old landfill

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new law about garbage appeared in the la Gaceta official newspaper Tuesday, and President Laura Chinchilla and the health minister, María Luisa Ávila Agüero, will hold a small ceremony today to talk about the new law.

Appropriately, the site for talking about the law is the old Río Azul landfill in La Unión de Tres Rios. Some of the former landfill is now the Parque La Libertad.

The health ministry said that the new trash law represents a change in paradigm in handling such material. Now the emphasis will be on recycling an integrated management instead of just burying the trash, the ministry said.

The president also will be presenting trucks to municipalities to go along with the new law.

Meanwhile, the Municipalidad de San José said Wednesday that it had cleaned up an informal landfill in an area south of the central city known as El Pochote. The work included opening up a blocked storm sewer and construction of a new sidewalk to replace one that was heavily damaged, the municipality said.

The area also will be patrolled to keep the landfill from returning, officials said. The municipality also will increase the number of weekly garbage pickups in the area from two to three to cut down on the need for informal disposal.

However, the El Pochote dump contained construction waste and other items that are not normally trucked away by trash collectors.

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Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

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Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

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A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 138

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Tropical grass might be answer to some problems here
By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A grass from India is on the way to providing miracle solutions for many tropical agricultural and environmental problems, according to researchers in Australia and Southeast Asia. Vetiver can stabilize land against erosion, clean water, absorb heavy metals, and provide fodder.

The key to this ability is the plant’s root system, which can reach up to two meters into the ground with very little horizontal growth. This makes for tremendous water uptake in humid conditions, with corresponding ability to survive drought. It also makes it very difficult to dislodge when used for soil retention and stabilization.

With the scientific name Chrysopogon zizanioides, this grass has a long tradition of cultivation in India as its roots provide an essential oil much used in perfumes. It is also cultivated in Haiti, Brazil, and China for that purpose. It is an ingredient of Chanel No. 5.

Since the domesticated vetiver is sterile and reproduces only vegetatively by way of shoots or pieces of stem, it is of low risk as an exotic weed. Many tropical grasses are highly invasive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved the “Sunshine” cultivar for use in Hawaii and the Pacific. Vetiver can be killed with glyphosate, marketed as Roundup).

Other functions that have been studied mainly relate to environmental uses. The most straightforward is erosion control. Plantings on riverbanks, rice paddy dikes and other soil exposed to the elements protect against water. As a grass, the crown bends in strong currents and the exceptional root system holds soil in place. Stabilizing cutbanks along roads is one use that is gaining importance in Costa Rica.

Hedges a foot or two high can form a dense barrier that holds back runoff and traps sediments. These sorts of buffers also help reduce pathogens like Cryptosporidium with large oocysts which settle along with the sediments. This intestinal parasite has been found in Costa Rica water supplies, even where treated. In general, reducing runoff keeps pathogens associated with livestock and humans out of the water supply. It can also help with recharge of underground aquifers.

The plant is highly tolerant of harsh environments, dealing with salt, toxic levels of nitrogen and potassium, a wide range of alkalinity and acidity, and harsh climatic conditions.

Planted on mine tailings or closed landfills, vetiver absorbs heavy metals produced by moisture seeping through the toxic waste. This can be accomplished by direct planting on the surface, in runoff areas, or specifically designed wetlands. Also the contaminated water can be used to irrigate the same plantings, where it is absorbed.

Experts consider water purification at different scales one of the biggest potential uses for vetiver. Sewage and various types of industrial waste from factories and pig farms have been studied.

Once solids have settled, the largest component of contaminants in domestic sewage is dissolved nitrogen and potassium. Discharging these into an aquatic environment can cause algae blooms which results in deoxidization when they die and decay. Fish kills and damage to other water-based organisms follow.

Vetiver is effective in removing these nutrients from the water. Two methods are used, either a normal settling pond with the vegetation in the water and/or a hydroponic setup with the plants on floating rafts. Periodic cropping transfers the nutrients that have accumulated in the grass elsewhere, normally as cattle fodder.

Paul Truong of the Vetiver Network International described how a case in Queensland, Australia, demonstrated the application of vetiver to municipal
Heredia planting
A.M. Costa Rica/Dennis Rogers
Vetiver recently planted for slope stabilization in San Pablo de Heredia.

Just planted grass
Vetiver Network International
Vetiver planted in Indonesian communal septic system.

sewage. The climate there is somewhat dryer thanGuanacaste. Extending an existing system in the town of Toogoolawah, involved placing 21 pontoons with 300 plants on each on the settling ponds, which was enough to eliminate a problem with algae there. For a town of about 1,000 people, the wetland where the first-stage water was sent was three hectares. This was planted with rows of vetiver about 12 meters apart along contours. After passing through this cycle, the water emptied into a natural wetland.

Results in terms of contaminants at the end of the treatment process met Australian standards, and under arid Queensland conditions most of the water never made it out of the planted vetiver area.

This process seems promising for rural towns in Costa Rica with space, being relatively inexpensive for the treatment of the waste water. Unfortunately, those are the places least likely to have any other infrastructure in place to deliver sewage.

Small scale applications are also possible, and some relevant to rural Costa Rica were developed by Truong and others as part of rebuilding in Indonesia following the 2004 tsunami. Planting vetiver over a drain field reduces the size and complexity needed and reduces cost. As they rebuilt entire villages in Sumatra, communal systems could also be designed, which might be relevant to the clumps of houses often seen in rural areas here.

Students in Cóbano set up experimental water filter
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Students from the high school in Cóbano returned to the ECO3 science fair with a display of their successful project which uses a planting of vetiver grass to improve the quality of contaminated water flowing onto the school property. Cóbano is on the southwest corner of the Nicoya peninsula.

At ECO1 two years ago the students were awarded $500 as seed money and were able to attract help from the local municipal government on the project. The PUMA ecological club organized the work under the supervision of advisor Luis Fernando Chavarría. At issue was gray water from about a dozen houses upstream, said Chavarría. Actual sewage wasn’t part of the problem so much as soapy water from sinks and outdoor washing.

The site was prepared with a backhoe and planted by hand. It is not perfectly level, so workers formed a pond or
 trench of sorts where the vetiver plants were planted. A 15-meter ditch channels the water into the main filter that is also lined with vetiver. The filter is 22 by 30 meters.

Rows of plants in a V force the water into the middle of the filter, with the lines about a meter apart. Pieces of the original plant crowns were placed about 20 cm apart, but will fill in the space when the line is developed.

The plants came from a farm in Orotina that has commercial production and cost 96,000 colons, plus transport to Cóbano. With the loan of equipment from the local municipal agency, the whole project came in at considerably less than the ECO1 grant money.

The cloudy water goes into the biofilter and without any additional treatment comes out clearer, and with the pH reduced from 6.43 to 6.9 on one test sample. Pure water would in theory have a pH of neutral, 7.0.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 138

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Spain returned two pieces from Patterson Collection

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country received two archaeological pieces Wednesday in Spain. They had been recovered from the extensive and controversial Leonardo Patterson collection.

One piece is a metate or grinding bench with the figure of a cat. The piece is believed to have come from the Diquis region in the south Pacific coast. It was made between 1000 and 1500 A.D., said the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

The other piece is a ceramic jar with various decorations that experts say was made between 800 and 1200 A.D. in the Guanacaste region where descendants still make traditional ceramics.

Spanish officials held a ceremony Wednesday in which the pieces were turned over to Melvin Sáenz, the Costa Rican ambassador there.

Spain has accused Patterson of the illegal trade in archaeological items and seized the collection.

The Costa Rican government is seeking repatriation of at least 450 more pre-Columbian artifacts taken from Costa Rica and now held in Spain.  The artifacts, all from Costa Rican Leonardo Patterson's collection, were seized in Santiago de Compostela.

In Costa Rica, the laws declare that archaeological objects are part of the national archaeological heritage. Costa Rican legislation was established stating that all archaeological objects from the pre-Columbian era
metate recovered
Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto photo
Metate that is one of the two pieces returned to Costa Rica custody.

obtained after Oct. 6, 1938, are properties of and can be reclaimed by Costa Rica.

Patterson's collection may be valued at as much as $100 million, according to Spanish press reports. However, some recent reports suggest that many of the pieces are not authentic. The public became aware of the collection when some key pieces were put on display in Santiago de Compostela. Costa Rican artifacts make up just a small part of the total. There also are Mexican, other Central American and South American artifacts. Perú also has claimed some pieces.

Patterson, who is from Limón, once held a diplomatic post in the Costa Rican government and served for a time in New York at the United Nations.

San José-Limón highway will not be closed this morning

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For an unspecified reason experts have decided not to continue this morning with their evaluation of Ruta 32, the San José-Guápiles-Limón highway.

Transport officials said Monday that the key road would be closed again this morning from 6 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. but Wednesday they said that the road would remain open but that the experts, some of them from Spain, will choose a
new day to close the road later.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes said that the road has to be closed so that traffic noise and vibration do not affect the instruments the experts are using.

The hillside along an 18-km stretch of the road north of San José is in danger of producing dangerous landslides, and the road has been closed by slides a half dozen times in the last two months.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 15, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 138

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New study documents rise
of ocean levels in Asia

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Newly detected rising sea levels in parts of the Indian Ocean, including the coastlines of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Java, appear to be at least partly a result of human-induced increases of atmospheric greenhouse gases, says a study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The study, which combined sea surface measurements going back to the 1960s and satellite observations, indicates climate warming likely is amplifying regional sea rise changes in parts of the Indian Ocean, threatening inhabitants of some coastal areas and islands, said  Associate Professor Weiqing Han, lead study author. The sea level rise — which may aggravate monsoon flooding in Bangladesh and India — could have far-reaching impacts on both future regional and global climate.

The key player in the process is the Indo-Pacific warm pool, an enormous, bathtub-shaped area of the tropical oceans stretching from the east coast of Africa west to the International Date Line in the Pacific. The warm pool has heated by about 1 degree Fahrenheit, or 0.5 degrees Celsius, in the past 50 years, primarily caused by human-generated increases of greenhouse gases, said Han.

A paper on the subject was published in this week's issue of Nature Geoscience.

Osa tourism operators plan
promotional expo today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourism operators from the Osa Peninsula are holding an expo today at the Hotel Crowne Plaza Corobicí, in San José to promote their region.

The expo is set up by the Cámara Nacional de Turismo de Osa. The expo is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Later in the day the expo will be open to travel professionals, a release said.

Some 44 separate tourism firms will be represented said the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. The Osa peninsula is the location of the Parque Nacional Corcovado, a pristine area teeming with wildlife. Also at the west side of the peninsula is Drake Bay, a sportfishing and whale watching hot spot.

Press group plans talks
on obstacles to freedom

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association officers have called a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington to discuss the major obstacles impacting press freedom throughout the hemisphere, how they affect inter-American politics and what corrective measures should be adopted.

Speaking for the organization will be Alejandro Aguirre of Diario Las Américas in Miami), the organization president; Gonzalo Marroquin of Prensa Libre in Guatemala, first vice president; and Milton Coleman of The Washington Post, second vice president. The conference is scheduled for Friday at 12:30 p.m. in the First Amendment room of the press club.

The Inter American Press Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. A.M. Costa Rica is a member.
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Seven released dissidents
wish for freedom in Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Seven political prisoners freed by the Cuban government say their release marks a new era in their homeland.

After arriving in Madrid, Spain Tuesday, released dissident Julio César Galvéz read a statement on behalf of all the former prisoners.  He said they hope those who remain in Cuba will enjoy the same freedom they do.

Six of the former prisoners arrived in Spain aboard an Air Europa flight.  The seventh arrived later on an Iberia flight. 

The United States welcomed the release and repeated its call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuba.

The seven are among 52 prisoners Cuba has agreed to free following negotiations with the Catholic Church and Spain.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley praised the work of the Cuban Catholic Church, Spain and others who worked for the prisoners' freedom.

He described the release as a positive development that the U.S. hopes will represent a step toward increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba.

The 52 were among the 75 dissidents arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms during a government crackdown in March 2003.

The Spanish government has said it would welcome more prisoners once they are released.  It said the released Cubans will not be required to stay in Spain.

The deal to release the prisoners was announced after Spain's foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, met last week with the archbishop of Havana, Jaime Ortega, and Cuban President Raúl Castro.

Cuba has said it holds no political prisoners, only what it calls mercenaries who Havana claims are working with the United States to undermine Cuban communism.

Word of the release agreement prompted dissident Guillermo Farinas to end a 135-day hunger strike protesting the government's treatment of political prisoners.

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