Water Resource Implications From Tourism Development Along the Western Coast of Nicaragua

EPA Grant Number: FP917478
Title: Water Resource Implications From Tourism Development Along the Western Coast of Nicaragua
Investigators: LaVanchy, Gary Thomas
Institution: University of Denver
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: September 1, 2012 through August 31, 2015
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Geography


The objectives of this research are to assess water supply availability and water quality amid the growing challenges of tourism development and to document land cover change associated with tourism development in the Playa Gigante area. It proposes to answer the question, can local ground water supplies sustain the demand for freshwater imposed by increased tourism development? The importance of this physical science question must necessarily be framed in a cultural and social manner because tourism plays a significant role in the Nicaraguan economy and has become a national agenda for generating revenue.


Qualitative methods will feature key informant interviews and interviews of well owners (n = 65). Quantitative and spatial data will be collected from geological field mapping, satellite imagery and hydrologic surveys (n = 60). Interviews of well owners will be tied to space using global positioning system (GPS) tagging and will allow for perceptions of change and access to be combined with measured change. Analysis of data will include interview coding, data exploration, mapping, variance tests and logistic regression. Support is obtained from personal prior experience in Playa Gigante and the sustained presence of the research advisor in this community and long-term relationships with a range of leaders and community actors.

Expected Results:

This project contributes to debates over the socio-environmental influences of tourism development on local populations in Central America. In the case of Nicaragua, the potential for conflict over freshwater availability appertains to tourism development and predicted decrease in precipitation from global climate change. Information and conclusions generated from this study will help local populations and developers make plans for a future with less water. This study also has implications for biodiversity and watershed preservation since the research area represents a fragment of the original dry forests along the southern Pacific coast of Mesoamerica. Further fragmentation will translate to a loss of biodiversity and deterioration of watersheds, and thus water supply. Therefore, findings on land cover change in light of the drivers of tourism development will provide valuable input to those responsible for management and preservation schemes.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

The broader impacts of this research hold significance and relevance in that Americans are substantial stakeholders in tourism development in this area of Nicaragua. An examination of the linkages between North American foreign direct investment and environmental change will provide valuable information for U.S. funded development projects (e.g., U.S. Agency for International Development, Inter-American Development Bank and The World Bank, among others). A deeper understanding of the dynamics between development growth and associated effects on local populations and water resource usage holds merit for a range of actors.

Supplemental Keywords:

water, tourism, Nicaragua

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • 2014
  • Final