Groundwater in the Central American region is currently being exploited mainly for human consumption and industrial activities. Utilization of groundwater for agriculture activities in Central America is still very limited when compared with that of other Latin American countries such as Mexico or Brazil, or, as highlighted elsewhere in this volume, with developing countries such as China or India. To date, agricultural activity in the region continues to rely on rainfall and, to a lesser extent, gravity irrigation. Nevertheless, during dry season in the Pacific region of Central America the exploitation of aquifers for irrigation in agriculture is increasing.

Unfortunately, almost no systematic data exist in any of the Central American countries about the potential volume of the main aquifers and of the existing demands on them. Still, in areas where use does exist, there are reports of a continual reduction in the water table levels, leading to concerns that the resource is already being used in a potentially inefficient and unsustainable manner. Likewise, although there have always been restrictions on certain high-risk activities in recharge areas and in important aquifers, a discussion is just beginning about protective measures to regulate urban expansion and limit the introduction of economic activities in these areas.

The objective of this chapter is to analyse the actual situation, using limited publicly available data coupled with interviews with key professionals, of groundwater in Central America, emphasizing the utilization of groundwater for agricultural production. The chapter is divided into four sections. The first contains a presentation of the Central American region and examines the availability of water in each of the seven countries, the levels of extraction and the

┬ęCAB International 2007. The Agricultural Groundwater Revolution: 100 Opportunities and Threats to Development (M. Giordano and K.G. Villholth)

amount of extracted water being used in various ways. The second gives a review of the use of water in agriculture in each of the countries of the region and of the irrigation techniques used. The third describes the existing institutional framework for groundwater management in Central America. The final section highlights the key issues for groundwater management in a region that has yet to experience a 'groundwater revolution' and the parallels with, and divergences from, regions where agricultural groundwater use is already more developed.

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