Sustainable Water Resources Management

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 163–178 | Cite as

Inventory of managed aquifer recharge schemes in Latin America and the Caribbean

  • José P. Bonilla Valverde
  • Catalin Stefan
  • Adriana Palma Nava
  • Eduardo Bernardo da Silva
  • Hugo L. Pivaral Vivar
Original Article


Managed aquifer recharge (MAR) is being used worldwide as a tool to overcome distinct water management challenges. An analysis of MAR case studies from different countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) was carried out as part of a larger study focused on the compilation of a global inventory of MAR schemes which aims at providing guidance for the planning and implementation of new MAR projects. The MAR case studies were collected from freely available scientific publications. These were classified according to the specific MAR type developed, main objective and the source of the influent water. Most reported cases (>60%) were found in Brazil, followed by Mexico and Chile. The main MAR type reported in LAC is in-channel modification, which represents more than half of the reported MAR schemes, and the main influent water used is river water and storm water (together accounting for >90% of cases). Approximately two-thirds of the MAR cases in LAC were developed to maximize natural storage. Publication of freely available scientific reports on MAR in LAC is scarce; however, this is not due to lack of MAR projects, but rather suggests insufficient motivation in sharing experiences with the international scientific community. Nevertheless, MAR has been successfully implemented in at least ten LAC countries. For four of these, estimates of annual recharge volume are availableMexico (156 Mm3), Cuba (115 Mm3), Peru (36 Mm3) and Costa Rica (4 Mm3)—and a further 30 Mm3 are crudely but conservatively calculated for the remaining LAC countries (mostly in Brazil) bringing the total to approximately 340 Mm3. The application of MAR is expected to grow further as a sustainable and reliable tool to address challenges related to climate, population and economic changes.


Managed aquifer recharge Latin America and the Caribbean Global inventory of MAR schemes MAR per population index 



Electrical conductivity


Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation


International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre


Instituto Mexicano de Tecnología del Agua (Mexican Institute of Water Technology)


Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (National Agricultural Technology Institute)


Latin America and the Caribbean


Managed aquifer recharge


Ministerio de Obras Públicas


United Nations


United Nations Statistics Division


The Real Academia de la Lengua Española defines Latin America as the countries of America that were colonized by Latin speaking countries (Spain, Portugal or France) (ASALE, n.d.). According to the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) regional grouping, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is an intermediary region of the America continent (UN 2017). This grouping is based on six continents, where LAC is composed of the Caribbean, Central America and South America sub-regions. The United Nations (UN) division is used in this study.

In general, the LAC climate is classified as humid to very humid; however, there are some arid and semi-arid regions (Guzmán-Arias and Calvo-Alvarado 2013; WWAP 2017). With 30% of the continental precipitation and one-third of the global runoff (ibid.), the region as a whole has a large amount of water resources. Furthermore, the available water resources, such as reclaimed water from municipal treatment plants, offers an alternative source of water for reuse (WWAP 2017). According to Bixio et al. (2005), the majority of the municipal reclamation treatment plants in LAC reach a secondary treatment and the main use is direct irrigation of agricultural land. It is expected that the number of municipal reclamation treatment plants will increase with urban growth (WWAP 2017).

The LAC countries have a total area of >20 million square kilometres and an estimated population of >645 million inhabitants in 2017 (UN 2017), which represents 8.6% of the world population. Within LAC, the sub-region’s population is concentrated in South America with almost two-thirds of LAC population (66%); the rest is composed of Central America with more than one-quarter (27%) and the Caribbean (7%) (UN2017). Brazil is the largest country, representing almost 42% of the total area and with >32% of the LAC population. Mexico is the second largest country regarding population (20%), and third largest regarding size.

The LAC population is concentrated in urban areas, representing 82% of the total population (Serebrisky 2014). Three cities in LAC are megacities (population >10 million inhabitants)—Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires; and two more are close to becoming megacities—Bogota and Lima (ibid.). These three megacities already had a population of >10 million inhabitants in the 1990s (Anton 1993). In these five megacities, basic services such as water and sanitation are still unattended issues for lower economic classes (Serebrisky 2014).

A 14% increase in the LAC population is projected by 2030 and 24% by 2050 (UN 2015). Population growth triggers global change, which is defined as natural and anthropogenic influences on terrestrial climate and the hydrologic cycle (Green et al. 2011). Global change threatens the safe drinking water supply to the population as well as for agriculture, where water is a key component (Hanjra and Qureshi 2010). However, water demand is not restricted to drinking water supply in LAC. Almost half (46%) of the energy produced in the region comes from hydropower plants (Miralles-Wilhelm 2014). Additional major water users include industry and agriculture, with agriculture being almost entirely rainfed in the region (90% of the agriculture land) (ibid.). Thus, the trend is to depend more on groundwater for land irrigation as rain patterns are changing.

Salt water intrusion is another threat for the water resources in the region, as many of the biggest urban areas in LAC are located near the coast, e.g., Buenos Aires, Cartagena, Havana, Kingston, Lima, Maracaibo, Montevideo, San Marta, Veracruz, and most of the cities in Brazil and Guyana (Anton 1993). As these urban areas expand, the coastal aquifers where they are located become threatened by declining water levels and saline water intrusion. According to Anton (1993), saline water intrusion was reported along the coast of LAC in cities like Lima, Santa Marta, Coro, Rio Grande, Natal and Mar del Plata. These cities are not only threatened by overpumping of groundwater, but urbanization also reduces the recharge area of coastal aquifers.

Managed aquifer recharge (MAR) offers great potential to contribute to the prevention of saltwater intrusion and restoration of depleted groundwater, as well as other benefits (Gale 2005). MAR is defined as the intentional banking, recharge, storage and/or treatment of water in aquifers (Dillon 2005; Dillon et al. 2009; Hannappel et al. 2014); it has also been called artificial recharge, enhanced recharge, water banking and sustainable water storage (Dillon 2005). There are many human activities that increase the naturally occurring recharge to aquifers. Dillon et al. (2009) classified them as unintentional, unmanaged and managed. In this classification system, MAR is carried out with the purpose of recovery of the water or for environmental benefit (ibid.).

According to Stefan and Ansems (2017), MAR is still regarded by some water resources managers as a rather costly and risky tool that is mostly applied in arid and semi-arid regions. This is due to their lack of easy access to information on successful MAR projects that are relevant to the characteristics of their locality. To address this, a global inventory of MAR schemes was created to raise awareness and improve the dissemination of results from MAR projects around the world (Stefan and Ansems 2017). A first compilation of MAR projects is found in the European MAR catalogue; this was elaborated by the DEMEAU project in order to demonstrate promising technologies that tackle emerging pollutants in water and wastewater (Hannappel et al. 2014; Sprenger et al. 2017). They established a systematic and categorized database of the European MAR sites. A worldwide database of MAR projects was collected by the INOWAS Junior Research Group of TU Dresden. This database is known as the global inventory of MAR schemes (Stefan and Ansems 2017) and is accessible via the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre MAR Portal (IGRAC 2015b).

A modification of the classification of the MAR techniques following Gale (2005), IGRAC (2015a), Sprenger et al. (2017) and Stefan and Ansems (2017), is given in Table 1. This classification system is used for the collated MAR schemes from LAC. The main objectives of the MAR application as well as operational data were also recorded. The case studies for the global MAR inventory were collected from freely available scientific papers, reports, academic theses and published presentations from >60 countries worldwide and with >1200 identified MAR projects (Stefan and Ansems 2017).

Table 1

Classification of the MAR techniques modified from IGRAC (2015a)


Main MAR technique

Specific MAR methods

Techniques referring primarily to getting water infiltrated

Spreading methods

Infiltration ponds and basins


Ditch, furrow, drains


Induced bank filtration

River/lake bank filtration

Dune filtration

Well, shaft and borehole recharge

Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR)/aquifer storage, transfer and recovery (ASTR)

Shallow well/shaft/pit infiltration

Techniques referring primarily to intercepting the water

In-channel modifications

Recharge dams

Subsurface dams

Sand dams

Channel spreading

Runoff harvesting

Rooftop rainwater harvesting

Barriers, bunds and trenches

In the present paper, 144 case studies from nine countries of the LAC region are analyzed in detail. The main objective of this work is to synthesize the MAR experiences in LAC for a better comprehension of the existing developments and future outlook. Many of the MAR schemes in Latin America are published in local journals or internal reports, inhibiting the flow of information and likely constraining the spread of these techniques in the region. The aim of this work is not to discuss the implications of MAR in the regional water resources, but to bring to light and create awareness of available information of MAR in the region. The created database is incorporated into the main database which is published by IGRAC (2015b).


The case studies were collected from freely available scientific papers, conference proceedings, internal reports and academic theses published in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Only fully implemented schemes were considered as case studies; small-scale investigations or test cases were not taken into consideration. Site selection for aquifer recharge and feasibility studies were also excluded, although there were several studies of this kind available for LAC (Bonilla et al. 2016; Cabrera Fajardo 2014; MOP 2014). Further selection criteria included the type of recharge, with only those schemes being considered that aim at purposely recharging the aquifer by means of various techniques (Dillon et al. 2009). Other types of anthropogenic recharge, either unintentional or unmanaged, were excluded from the LAC database. Some examples of unintentional recharge can be found in Brazil (Blackburn et al. 2002), Chile (Iriarte-Díaz 2003) and Mexico (Pastén-Zapata et al. 2014), while the El Mezquital/Tula Valley in Mexico represents a good example of unmanaged recharge (Kazner et al. 2012).

The information collected includes spatial and operational data. The spatial data refer to the country, the administrative unit, and the geographical coordinates of the MAR application. For some cases, a note is included in the database reporting if the coordinates were explicitly mentioned in the reference, extracted from a map in the document, inferred from Google Maps or simply associated with the nearest geographical object (e.g., city, highway, etc.). The operational data include the reported year of operation start and shut down, main and specific MAR techniques, main and specific objectives, as well as the influent source of recharge and final use of the extracted water (Table 2). As one single MAR scheme may have several objectives, recharge sources and final uses, these are all recorded in the database; however, only the principal objective, influent source and final use are considered for the statistical analysis.

Table 2

Collected information from the MAR projects

Geographical information

Operational data


Starting operation (year)


Shut down since (year)


Type of operation


Main and specific MAR type


Main and specific objective


Influent source


Final use of extracted water

The main MAR technique follows the modified classification by IGRAC (IGRAC 2015a) (see Table 1). The main MAR objectives used in this work correspond to the categories proposed by Hannappel et al. (2014) for the European MAR catalogue—(a) maximize natural storage, (b) physical management of the aquifer, (c) management of water distribution systems, (d) water quality management, (e) ecological benefits, and (f) other benefits. The maximization of natural storage refers to the enhancement of the aquifer storage capacity, while physical management of the aquifer refers to restoration of falling groundwater levels, reduction of land subsidence, prevention of saltwater intrusion, enhancing well field production, and hydraulic control of contaminant plumes (Hannappel et al. 2014).

The types of influent water considered in the present inventory include (a) brackish water, (b) distilled water, (c) groundwater, (d) lake water, (e) river water, (f) storm water, (g) tap water and (h) treated wastewater. Four final uses are recognized in the inventory—(a) agricultural, (b) domestic, (c) ecological and (d) industrial.


In total, 144 MAR projects were collected from 71 publications and are overlaid in Fig. 1 on the map of physical and economic water scarcity (Molden 2007).Table 3 presents the number of MAR projects reported per country and where they were published. The brackets contain the number of references when the correspondence is not one to one. For example, there are three case studies reported in one journal article for Argentina and 44 case studies reported in 18 journal articles for Brazil.

Fig. 1

Spatial distribution of reported MAR type in LAC overlaying a map by Molden (2007) of physical and economic water scarcity

Table 3

MAR projects reported and the number of references



Conference papers

Journal articles

Newspaper articles




Total MAR projects




3 (1)


2 (1)



8 (5)



3 (1)


3 (1)


3 (2)

16 (9)

44 (18)



25 (10)

89 (41)



5 (2)





9 (6)


3 (1)


2 (1)

5 (2)

Costa Rica


2 (1)


2 (1)



4 (1)

2 (1)


6 (2)



2 (1)

12 (6)


3 (1)



19 (10)






3 (3)


7 (4)

19 (11)

72 (31)

2 (1)

6 (3)

9 (7)

29 (13)

144 (71)

One report on Brazil describes >50,000 specific structures which are not represented in Fig. 1 because they are reported at state level, without coordinates. For more information on these structures see the description in section “MAR schemes by country” and the works of Barros (2003), Brito et al. (1989, 1997), Silva (2011) and Silva et al. (2007, 2009).

Regarding the total number of MAR projects in LAC, more than half of the surveyed case studies were reported in journal articles. Some of these journals are published in national languages (e.g., Spanish or Portuguese) and are only known locally; thus, limiting the reach to an international audience. The same principle applies to the academic theses; they represent 20% of the sources that contained basic information for the case studies. The theses present a bigger challenge as most of them were not available online. In many cases only a reference to them was found and it was necessary to search for the full text in the university databases.

MAR schemes by country

The reported MAR schemes in Latin America are briefly presented by country, with a description of the most notable features encountered.


Aquifer storage and recovery wells as well as infiltration ponds and basins are the main specific MAR techniques reported in Argentina and, in some cases, even a combination of both are used. Although most are distributed in the northern part of the country (Fig. 1), all the areas share a common characteristic in the Provinces of La Rioja (Recalde 2008), Santa Fe (Basán Nickisch 2011) and La Pampa (Adema 2015), i.e., the occurrence of a shallow unconfined aquifer with electrical conductivity (EC) values >1000 µS/cm. For this reason, the aquifer recharge and surface storage systems are implemented using rainwater to improve groundwater quality.

All case studies identified in Argentina were implemented and reported by the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (National Agricultural Technology Institute, INTA). The INTA lists four MAR experimental sites in the Province of Santa Fe. Similar to the Paraguayan experience, rainwater is recharged into an aquifer with high EC to create a lens of fresh water which is subsequently extracted by wells. The pumps are floating in these wells, extracting mainly the upper-most water which is composed mainly of the recharged rainwater and only a little native groundwater.


In the case of Bolivia, the reported MAR technique involves infiltration trenches for runoff harvesting. These recharge schemes were installed in three rural communities in the Chuquisaca Department where the validation of methods for agricultural development was based on soil conservation and natural resources management. Infiltration trenches were constructed at the demonstration sites and operated for two years (Arteaga 2003). Arteaga (2003) reported that the infiltration trenches were accepted by the farmers in hill zones used for pasture rather than in agricultural plain lands and recommended this technique for forest plantations.


Most MAR cases found in Brazil include in-channel modifications, specifically subsurface dams. According to Regueira et al. (2002), the first scheme was constructed in 1919 in a semi-arid region of the state of Paraíba. Almost all of the cases were found in this region that occupies an area of approximately 900,000 km2 (de Queiroz et al. 2006). They were implemented at different times over the past century as a policy of several governments, and have thrived particularly in the past two decades due to intensified public action to eradicate hunger and poverty. The use of subsurface dams in the Brazilian semi-arid region is aimed at storing water for food production for poor families. Consequently, they could have enough to survive and also sell the surplus at local fairs and markets, increasing family incomes.

Programs such as ‘P1MC’ (1 Million Cisterns) and ‘P1 + 2’ (One Piece of Land and Two Types of Water) are examples of public policies that helped to make subsurface dams popular in Brazil. Furthermore, there are strong reasons to believe that the number of this type of in-channel modifications in Brazil is likely much larger than the amount reported in this paper, given that many references were found to other official programs concerning this type of MAR (at state and federal levels). Unfortunately, the access to the respective databases has not yet been possible.

The infiltration ponds and basins are the most frequent MAR types in Brazil. These types of spreading methods have been used in rural and urban areas but with completely different purposes. In rural areas, they have been implemented to prevent soil erosion and to produce food, by planting in the area immediately around them (the Brazilians call these structures ‘barraginha’). In urban areas, they have been used as a drainage system component, especially in Natal, a city in the northeast of the country where soil characteristics are good for infiltration (Silva 2011). According to Landau et al. (2013), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) has supported the development of subsurface dams and the rural model of the infiltration basins. Between 1997 and 2013, >50,566 barraginhas were constructed; they were financially supported mainly by federal official programs, like the ones that boosted the use of subsurface dams in the same semi-arid region (ibid.).

An estimation of the recharged amount by a barraginha is presented by de Barros (2003) on an experimental area in Sete Lagoas, Minas Gerais. It is estimated that 80 m3 of water was recharged to the groundwater after each precipitation event. The dimensions of these small infiltration ponds are 1.5–2.0 m deep and 16–20 m in diameter (de Barros 2009). The precipitation event that fills the barraginhas in this area occurs 10–15 times per year, resulting in a recharge of up to 1200 m3/year from a single barraginha.

Other types of MAR reported in Brazil are infiltration trenches which are implemented in urban areas to prevent floods. Belo Horizonte, the capital city of Minas Gerais state, seems to be leader in the application of this type of runoff harvesting (Caputo et al. 2013). Almost all rooftop rainwater harvesting cases in Brazil correspond to pilot projects. The water which is collected and stored in cisterns, common in semi-arid areas, is used almost entirely for drinking purposes. Induced bank filtration is performed in the state of Santa Catarina. A leading research application of this kind of MAR is at Ituporanga, which provides water for pisciculture (Michelan 2010; Mondardo 2009; Soares 2013). Ditches and furrows have been used to give a final destination to the domestic effluent treated in a wastewater treatment plant named ETE Ponte Negra, in Natal-RN, a likely isolated case of soil aquifer treatment in Brazil (Ferreira 2008).

Only a few MAR projects reported information regarding the recharged amount of water by MAR techniques in Brazil. Induced bank filtration by a well installed on the bank of a lake was reported to produce up to 2.56 m3/day in Ituporanga, a small city in the Santa Catarina state, ‘to supply small animal production during drought periods’ (Soares 2009). This well is currently not in use. Freitas and Nascimento (2006) have shown that a subsurface dam 95 m wide and 1.5 m deep constructed in the rural area of Iguaba Grande, a small city in the state of Rio de Janeiro, allowed the use of up to 32 m3 of water per day from a well installed adjacent to the dam. This contrasts with the 5 m3 that would be available without the subsurface dam.


The Chilean government by means of the Ministerio de Obras Públicas (Public Works Ministry, MOP) has investigated MAR opportunities since 2012. The first study identified focuses on a detailed analysis of two river basins—the Choapa River and the Quilimarí River (MOP 2012), followed by a compilation of suitable studies and pilot projects (MOP 2013). All these efforts led to the formation of a guideline for MAR projects in Chile (MOP 2014), which also includes a good review on MAR cases in LAC and around the world. A detailed study of the technical possibilities for MAR in 18 river basins in the north and center of Chile is presented by Cabrera (2014), where the legal and technical aspects are also discussed.

From the reported MAR schemes, the two main MAR techniques identified in Chile are infiltration ponds/basins and trenches. Two MAR schemes using infiltration ponds/basins are located close to the Aconcagua River (Tobar Espinoza 2009; Törey 2014) and several others are located in the La Ligua River and in the southern part of Santiago (Rengifo, n.d.). These are pilot projects implemented in the past five years mainly by the MOP (Törey 2014).

The reported trenches are in the coastal side of the country, south-west of Santiago. The regions where these techniques are applied are Región de O’Higgins, Región del Maule and Región del Bío-Bío. The trenches have been applied in combination with plantation of pines for two reasons, i.e., to capture the humidity that comes from the ocean and to retain the rainwater longer and allow better infiltration. These trenches have been managed in cooperation with the Corporación Nacional Forestal (National Forest Corporation) that looks for maximal efficiency of soil conservation and hydraulic advantages in the dry coastal and arid regions of Chile (Pizarro Tapia et al. 2008).

Channel spreading was reported in the Peumo Valley, in the Cachapoal River. During the winter season the channel intercepts the runoff and it flows to the rechargeable areas in the valley. During summer, the infiltration from the channels keeps the groundwater level stable which contributes to good agricultural practices in the region (Arumí et al. 2009).

When reported, the results from the Chilean MAR projects are expressed by a rise of the water table, as for the Peumo Valley (Arumí et al. 2009), or biomass production (Pizarro Tapia et al. 2008). Estimates on the achievable recharge are given by Törey (2014), but no paper or document mentions the actual quantity of recharge.


Colombia has two reported case studies of induced bank filtration, although according to Jaramillo (2015) there is vast experience in this technique in Colombia that is not reported. This affirmation is also true for most of the LAC countries. Colombia has a methodological guideline for the environmental management of aquifers (Ministerio de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible 2014), where MAR is taken into account. Two cases are presented—one in the Manzanares River in Santa Marta and the pilot project for the Morroa aquifer in Sucre (ibid.).

Two other cases are reported by Escobar et al. (2011), where two operational wells located in alluvial aquifers were identified in the Antioquia Department. Different experiments were conducted to determine the interaction between the river and the aquifer. The interaction was confirmed for both wells, by means of particle transport with the aid of field experimentation and computer simulations using MODFLOW.

Costa Rica

For Costa Rica, induced bank filtration was reported by Arias et al. (2006). The sites are in the alluvial aquifers of the Barranca and Banano Rivers, which are on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, respectively. Both well fields are used for drinking water supply. River bank filtration accounts for more than one-quarter of water supply of the Caribbean city of Limón—115 l/s out of 425 l/s (AyA 2012). This was also reported in Colombia by Jaramillo (2015), suggesting significant experience in induced bank filtration in Costa Rica, as well as throughout the region; however, it has not been reported.


The MAR schemes in Cuba have continued to be used to prevent saline water intrusion since the 1950s (González Báez 1985). A recharge dam and injection wells are reported for prevention of saline water intrusion in karstic aquifers with runoff water (González Báez 1974, in MOP 2014). In 2016, two more injection wells were built in Cuba to also prevent saline water intrusion (Lubia Ulloa and Trujillo 2016).


A MAR inventory was developed to evaluate the current groundwater situation, MAR potential, challenges and targets (Palma 2014). Mexico has some experience in MAR and water reuse but not in the context of comprehensive integrated groundwater management. There has been interest in MAR in Mexico since 1943, with a diversion constructed to move water off stream from the Magdalena River to flood fields and infiltrate it into the southern part of Mexico City.

The Mexican inventory represents the only systematic record of MAR projects in any LAC country to date. As part of the MAR inventory approach, technical sheets have been generated that summarize the main features of each MAR project (method, technique, water source, objective and recharged volume). Currently, the estimated total volume of active MAR projects is approximately 156 Mm3 annually. MAR projects currently in development have a potential to recharge an additional 192 Mm3 annually, using an approach to increase storage and recovery at a reduced cost and in a sustainable manner. Additionally, the Instituto Mexicano de Tecnología del Agua (IMTA, Mexican Institute of Water Technology) compiled a book concerning MAR in Mexico, with national and international project descriptions and best practices (Escolero Fuentes et al. 2017).

The main purpose of MAR projects in Mexico is for groundwater storage and recovery, and to improve water supply resilience. Additional MAR objectives include the improvement of water quality, improving drainage and flood control (mainly with boreholes or ‘dry wells’), and to help control differential land surface subsidence due to chronic groundwater overexploitation in Mexico City.

Unlike many other countries, Mexico is among the few that has regulations for the development and implementation of MAR projects. Article 7 of the National Water Act (1992) identifies water-related matters considered in the public interest, including but not limited to protection, conservation and improvement of basins, aquifers, river beds, enclosed bodies of water, and other nationally owned water bodies, and restoring the hydrological balance between surface water and groundwater. In the National Water Law (LAN), there are two main Official Mexican Standards (Normas Oficiales Mexicanas; NOM) that help to ensure appropriate MAR project approaches:

  • • NOM-014-CONAGUA-2007—Requirements for artificial recharge of aquifers with treated wastewater (SEMARNAT 2009a), and

  • • NOM-015-CONAGUA-2007—Artificial infiltration of water into aquifers with rainwater harvesting (SEMARNAT 2009b).


Three cases from Paraguay are located in the Chaco region, in the cities of Filadelfia, Loma Plata and Neu-halbstadt (von Hoyer and Godoy 2000). They all have in common the MAR type (infiltration basins) as well as the main objective, i.e., to improve the water quality of the unconfined aquifer which contains water with high salinity. The Filadelfia case is the best characterized, with the author reporting the changes directly under and around one infiltration basin. Although this case is considered as a single experience, 12 additional infiltration basins are presented in the map by von Hoyer and Godoy (2000). It is reported that these practices of aquifer recharge have been performed for many years in an empirical way by the indigenous people of the Chaco (Sosa, 1976, in Godoy et al. 1994).

In the Filadelfia case study, the EC of the water in the aquifer without infiltration basins is 3000 µS/cm in the upper part [and up to 10,000 µS/cm for the first 4–5 m (Godoy et al. 1994)] and it increases with depth to almost 30,000 µS/cm in the base of the aquifer. By means of a basin originally designed for the superficial storage of water (locally known as ‘Tajamar’), a fresh water lens is created in the aquifer with the recharged rainwater. Under and around the infiltration structure, the EC was <1000 µS/cm for a depth of 7 m (ibid.). The recovery of this recharged water for productive use is not explicitly mentioned in the text. However, in the Argentinean cases, which are based on the Paraguayan experience, the recharge water is used for productive activities.


The MAR experience in Peru is concentrated in the alluvial quaternary deposits of the Rímac and Chillón Valleys that form the main aquifer used for the water supply of Lima (Quintana and Tovar 2002). By 2001, induced bank filtration and in-channel modifications were developed in the Rímac River, where 60 screens with a depth between 3.0 and 3.5 m and a width between 150 and 200 m were built along the river with a separation of 100 m between each. The water is recovered by 30 extraction wells with a total production of 1.6 m3/s (ibid.).

A similar approach was also used for the Chillón River—40 screens and 28 wells in 4 km with a screen depth between 2.5 m, and width between 70 and 250 m (Grados Chaw 2014). One runoff harvesting experience is also reported for Peru by Carhuapoma and Portugués (1996, in Pizarro Tapia et al. 2008).

Comparison between countries

Qualitative information relating to sites could be compared among LAC countries, but there were insufficient data on recharge volumes to allow quantitative comparisons across the region. Hence, the following analysis relates to the number of sites rather than the volume of recharge. The authors recognize they have aggregated information from projects with a wide range in scale, and this compilation reflects the accessible information rather than the totality of sites in LAC countries. Therefore, these comparisons are presented as a preliminary perspective on MAR in LAC, and as an inducement to others to report more sites and hence allow a more accurate future picture.

Brazil (excluding hundreds of thousands of barraghinas) accounts for almost two-thirds (61%) of the total reported MAR case studies in LAC, followed by Mexico (12%), Chile (6%) and Argentina (5%). The other six countries represent <15% of the total cases. In-channel modifications are the most applied MAR technique reported in LAC (see Fig. 2), covering almost half of the case studies (47%); the second most applied MAR technique is spreading methods (22%), followed by well, shaft and borehole recharge and runoff harvesting (both with 12%). Induced bank filtration is the least reported MAR technique in LAC.

Fig. 2

Reported MAR technique by country in LAC

Most of the reported MAR schemes are located in areas that either have physical water scarcity or are approaching that situation (Molden 2007) as in shown in Fig. 1, e.g., in-channel modifications in the north of Brazil, induced bank filtration in Peru or the different MAR schemes in Mexico. Induced bank filtration and runoff harvesting can also be found in areas defined as having economic water scarcity. Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Paraguay are defined as having little or no water scarcity; however, in the Argentina and Paraguay cases, the quality of the available water resources in some areas where MAR techniques are being implemented is not good enough for agricultural use.

Well, shaft and borehole recharge and spreading methods are the main MAR types reported for Argentina and Paraguay in areas that share a common characteristic, i.e., the occurrence of a shallow unconfined aquifer with an EC of >1000 µS/cm (Basán Nickisch 2011; Godoy et al. 1994). For this reason, the aquifer recharge and surface storage systems are implemented to improve the quality and quantity based on the distribution and management of rainwater. In Cuba, water runoff has been used to prevent saline water intrusion by a system of perforated wells in storm water channels since the 1950s (Gonzalez Baez 1985).

Induced bank filtration is the main reported MAR technology for Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru. This technique is used for the urban water supply in Costa Rica and Peru. It is one of the water sources for the main coastal cities in the Pacific and Caribbean areas of Costa Rica (Arias et al. 2006), and is used for part of the capital city of Lima in Peru (Quintana and Tovar 2002).There is only one case study in Bolivia, with runoff harvesting being reported mainly for agricultural purposes (Arteaga 2003). A special case is the Chilean experience, where there is no direct use of the water after recharge, but a biomass increase is reported in the plantations that use MAR techniques (Pizarro Tapia et al. 2008).

Although any of the MAR project may have multiple benefits, only the main objective for each MAR scheme in LAC was recorded in the database. The main objective of the reported MAR schemes for LAC is to maximize the natural storage of the aquifers, accounting for more than half of the reported objectives (56%), followed by physical management of the aquifer (26%) and improvement of water quality (10%). The other reported objectives account for <8%. Figure 3 shows the distribution of the objectives of the MAR schemes by country and for LAC. MAR schemes for maximization of the natural storage are reported in all countries except Cuba, Paraguay and Peru. Ecological benefits are the least reported objective, identified only in Chile, Mexico and Peru.

Fig. 3

Reported main MAR scheme objective by country and for LAC

Bolivia, Costa Rica and Cuba have only one stated objective for all their reported MAR schemes. Bolivia and Costa Rica also have only one MAR type reported, i.e., runoff harvesting and induced bank filtration, respectively (see Fig. 2). The final use of the MAR scheme in Bolivia is for agriculture and in Costa Rica is for water supply systems. In Cuba, both the reported MAR schemes are used for the same objective, i.e., to stop or prevent saltwater intrusion.

Storm and river water are the main source of water for the MAR schemes in LAC, representing 48 and 45%, respectively. Wastewater accounts for one-quarter of the reported MAR schemes in Mexico. Brazil is the other country where wastewater is also being reused via MAR. The distribution of the influent source of recharged water among LAC countries is given in Fig. 4. The use of wastewater as a source of recharge is being used in these two countries that either have physical water scarcity or are approaching water scarcity (Fig. 1).

Fig. 4

Reported main MAR scheme influent water by country in LAC

Fig. 5

Reported final use of the recovered water by country in LAC

The final use of the recharged water in LAC is shown in Fig. 5. MAR is mostly applied in LAC to recover water for agricultural purposes (>50% of the case studies) followed by domestic and ecological uses. Industrial use of the recharged water is only reported in Colombia (Escobar Correa et al. 2011; Jaramillo Uribe 2015).

Fig. 6

Reported MAR cases per population by country and by technique

These statistics are strongly influenced by Brazil, where in-channel modifications account for 64% of the MAR cases. For the other nine LAC countries (without Brazil) the leading MAR techniques are spreading methods and well, shaft and borehole recharge with more than one-quarter of the case studies (28 and 26%, respectively), followed by in-channel modifications representing 19% of the total reported MAR schemes. The main objective without Brazil is still to maximize the natural storage, but it represents only one-third (35%) of the reported cases, closely followed by the physical management of the aquifer (30%). The source for recharge percentages also changes with the exclusion of Brazil, but storm water (60%) and river water (30%) are still the main reported source of recharge. Without Brazil, the dominant final use of the recovered water is domestic.

A ‘MAR per population index’ is proposed to facilitate comparison between countries. This is calculated by dividing the reported MAR cases by the country population, i.e., cases per million inhabitants. The total volume of recharged and recovered water would be an optimal index but the available information in this matter is scarce in the MAR projects reported in LAC and could only be estimated for Mexico (2.7 m3 per capita). The ‘MAR per population index’ (Fig. 6) is a first effort to produce a common base to compare the application of MAR between countries. Cuba and Chile have the highest index in LAC, both >0.5. These are followed by Brazil, Paraguay and Costa Rica, all with an index >0.4. Brazil still appears as one of the main participants in the region in respect of application of MAR schemes, but other countries are now appearing when the population is taken into account. Bolivia, Costa Rica and Paraguay are among these countries, but they only have one reported MAR technique—runoff harvesting, induced bank filtration and spreading methods, respectively. Note that Fig. 6 refers to the reporting of MAR cases, not to the relative magnitude or importance of MAR in LAC countries.


For better readability, the discussion is split into specific topics—a comparison with other regions of the world (the LAC MAR database in the global MAR inventory context), freely available information on LAC MAR projects, MAR guidelines in various countries, and the opportunities for MAR in LAC.

LAC MAR database in relation to other regions

In this survey, almost 150 MAR case studies were identified in LAC, representing >12% of the current total global inventory of MAR schemes. This percentage is higher than the LAC population percentage of the world (9%). LAC is the fourth world region regarding the number of identified MAR projects according to the global inventory of MAR schemes (Stefan and Ansems 2017). LAC has little more than half of the MAR case studies identified for North America (USA and Canada), Asia or Europe.

The two main objectives among the MAR projects in LAC are to maximize natural storage of the aquifers and the physical management of the aquifers. These two objectives aim to augment the availability of water resources; the first by enhancing the aquifer storage capacity and the second by recovery of water levels, i.e., retrieval of available water resources. These two objectives account for >80% of the total main objective in LAC, in contrast with water quality management in Europe (Hannappel et al. 2014).

Another difference between LAC and Europe regarding MAR is in the main MAR technique applied. While induced bank filtration is the main applied MAR technique in Europe, for LAC it is in-channel modifications. Induced bank filtration is mainly implemented for domestic use with the objective of water quality management in Europe. Even though these statistics are strongly influenced by Brazil, induced bank filtration is still the less reported MAR technique in LAC.

Agriculture is the main user of the recharged water in LAC, even though most of the regions agricultural lands are rainfed. Again, Brazil’s contribution to the statistics is high. Domestic use is the main user of the recharged water in the other LAC countries. Industrial and research use of the recharged water in LAC is seldom reported. Storm water is the main source of recharge with and without taking Brazil into consideration. This could relate to the humid climatic conditions of LAC, where water is not evenly distributed in time.

Availability of information and the scale of recharge projects

The scale of MAR schemes plays an important role in evaluating their impact on water resources. The database of reported MAR cases constitutes a first effort to identify local experience and lessons learned in the region, and to the assessment of MAR replication potential in LAC. As presented in section “MAR schemes by country”, the range of MAR activities in LAC extends from domestic rainwater harvesting in Bolivia, Brazil and Peru, to large-scale recharge with recycled water in Mexico. The need to improve the way of reporting the results from the MAR schemes, not only for LAC, but for all the MAR cases in the Global MAR inventory, cannot be overemphasized.

Another challenge lies in the way the results of the MAR projects are reported. These varied from increase in the water table (Arumí et al. 2009; Landau et al. 2013; Quintana and Tovar 2002) and biomass production (Pizarro Tapia et al. 2008) to yearly extracted/injected volume.

The MAR projects with information regarding the yearly extracted/injected volume are reported in Table 4. To the best of our knowledge, there are only a couple of projects with information regarding the recharge quantity in the reported cases from Brazil, even though this country represents more than two-thirds of the LAC database. Mexico is the country with detailed information on the recharged quantity regarding the MAR projects, mostly based in the review by Palma (2014).

Table 4

MAR projects with detailed information

Project name


MAR type

Recharge volume (Mm3/year)


Banano river

Costa Rica



AyA (2012)

Dam and wells




MOP (2014)

San Luis Río Colorado




Palma (2014)

Región Lagunera




Palma (2014)

Valle de México




Palma (2014)





Palma (2014)

Chillón river




Grados Chaw (2014)





IBF induced bank filtration, IM in-channel modifications, SM spreading methods, WSBR well, shaft and borehole recharge

Table 4 shows that estimates of annual recharge volume are available in only four countriesMexico (156 Mm3), Cuba (115 Mm3), Peru (36 Mm3) and Costa Rica (4 Mm3). Volumes are unknown in other LAC countries. A crudely calculated figure of 30 Mm3 for Brazil’s barraginhas would bring a conservative total for LAC countries to approximately 340 Mm3.

MAR guidelines and regulation in LAC

Only a few countries in LAC have adopted integrated water resources management in their legislation (Guzmán-Arias and Calvo-Alvarado 2013), let alone specific legislation regarding MAR. Mexico has specific official standards related to MAR with treated wastewater (SEMARNAT 2009a) and rainfall harvesting (SEMARNAT 2009b). Both Colombia and Chile have guidelines regarding the implementation of MAR projects. To the best of our knowledge, Brazil has no guideline, legislation, or standards regarding MAR; however, the government is directly involved in the construction of MAR facilities as governmental policy with the P1MC and P1 + 2 programs (see “Brazil” section).

In general, legislation tends to be restrictive for reuse of reclaimed water, requiring treatment to make water quality suitable for the aquifer recharge and its existing beneficial uses and dependent ecosystems in the proximity. The legal framework should be flexible and water body-specific, as a high-quality water may be required or a lower-quality resource might be acceptable for non-potable uses, e.g., taking into account soil-aquifer treatment techniques, aquifers remote from groundwater-dependent ecosystems and drinking water sources.

MAR outlook for LAC

The existence of guidelines and the incorporation of MAR into the legal framework encourage the application of these techniques in countries where it is available. The government participation in Brazil is particularly promising; however, there is still a lack of dissemination of the results to an international audience, making it difficult to replicate or improve on these efforts in other LAC countries. Furthermore, there is no reliable estimate of the effectiveness and impact of MAR projects in most LAC countries.

It is expected that with global climate and population change, more water specialists will consider MAR as a viable solution for water-related problems in the region. The Paraguayan MAR projects are good examples of the adaptation of local methods for water management while incorporating technical improvements. The same applies to the Argentinian MAR projects where the implementation of the floating pump allows for storing rain water in an aquifer that would otherwise be difficult to use due to groundwater quality.

Reclaimed water has been largely neglected as a source for MAR in LAC, with the exception of Mexico and Brazil. Reuse of reclaimed water offers an additional source for MAR, especially with the expected increase in the implementation of treatment plants in LAC. Direct use in irrigation is indeed reported (Bixio et al. 2005; WWAP 2017), but users of this resource may be unaware that the water quality poses serious health risks. Reclaimed water recovered from a planned MAR scheme offers an additional barrier to prevent health hazards (Dillon and Jimenez 2008).

Another promising application of MAR in LAC is the prevention of saline water intrusion, especially in large cities around the coast where it has already been reported. MAR has been applied for >50 years for this purpose in Cuba. Cuba’s experience in karstic aquifers is not only valuable for LAC but for the rest of the world. For coastal cities, direct use of the reclaimed water from municipal treatment plants involves cost of transportation to the irrigation areas. If used to recover or prevent salt water intrusion, the reclaimed water could present an excellent opportunity for reuse.


MAR technologies are reported as being applied in ten of the LAC countries. The percentage of reported MAR schemes in LAC regarding the Global MAR inventory (12%) is relatively similar to the percentage of the LAC global population (9%). Cuba and Chile are the countries with the highest MAR-per-population index in the region (>0.5 MAR cases reported per million inhabitants), followed by Brazil, Paraguay and Costa Rica.

The best estimate of total annual volume of MAR from reported sites is 340 Mm3, where 311 Mm3 have been reported and 30 Mm3 are roughly estimated, considering the type and likely scale of the project.

The concentration on only two types of MAR techniques (spreading methods and in-channel modifications) among the reported cases and the record of few attempts with other MAR types (in pilot projects) suggests that the other possibilities may have a future in the region.

This synthesis of the MAR schemes in LAC improves the dissemination of the local experiences in the region to an international audience. This will expand the comprehension of the opportunities and limitations of distinct MAR techniques in LAC and the world. The application of MAR is expected to increase in the coming years to overcome global change challenges in the region—three countries in LAC already have guidelines or regulations for MAR projects (Colombia, Chile and Mexico).



This work was partly funded by the Programa de Innovación y Capital Humano para la Competitividad (PINN) of Costa Rica through a fellowship grant provided to José Pablo Bonilla Valverde, by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) through a fellowship grant provided to Eduardo Bernardo da Silva and Hugo Pivaral Vivar and by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research through a research grant provided to the Junior Research Group INOWAS, project no. 01LN1311A. The authors would like to thank the reviewers and the editor for the suggestions made to improve the manuscript.

Author contributions

Catalin Stefan conceived and designed the methodology and provided final corrections. José Pablo Bonilla Valverde collected and analyzed the results and wrote the first draft of the paper. Eduardo Bernardo da Silva collected and analyzed the data from Brazil and Hugo Leonel Pivaral Vivar collected and analyzed the data from the rest of the Latin American countries. Adriana Palma collected and analyzed the data from Mexico and provided feedback on the written manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The founding sponsors had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, and in the decision to publish the results.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y AlcantarilladosSan JoseCosta Rica
  2. 2.Department of HydrosciencesTechnische Universität DresdenDresdenGermany
  3. 3.Instituto de IngenieríaUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMexico CityMexico

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