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Climate Change Impacts on the

Hydrology of the Dominican Republic:

Projections and Policy Options

Carlos Rymer, Emmanuelle Humblet, and

Nosisa Ndaba

MPA-ESP Program
School of International and Public Affairs
Columbia University

August 13, 2008

Please correspond to the authors at,, or
Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

Executive Summary
The Dominican Republic presently enjoys satisfactory freshwater
availability that can adequately sustain its economic development. The
country’s mean annual precipitation is approximately 1,400mm, with the
range spanning from 700mm to 2,400mm depending on the region. The
variable terrain, ranging from large valleys to mountain ranges, also
contributes to the lack of freshwater in some areas and its abundance in
other areas. Total annual precipitation averages 69 cubic kilometers, while
annual evapotranspiration averages 58 cubic kilometers, leaving
approximately 21 cubic kilometers as runoff that supplies surface and
groundwater. While the country has a rapidly growing economy, it faces
many socioeconomic and environmental challenges, one of them being
freshwater availability, particularly in relation to future climate change and
population growth.

In this assessment, we analyze the current water balance and project

future changes in freshwater availability using existing climate change and
population projections. We conclude that currently, freshwater availability
is approximately 2,200 cubic meters per capita per year, but that this will
fall by nearly 85% to 360 cubic meters per capita per year by 2100. We also
conclude that freshwater availability will reach the water scarcity threshold
of 1,000 cubic meters per capita around mid-century. These projections are
due to a predicted 20% drop in annual rainfall in the region and an
expected increase in evapotranspiration of approximately 0.1 mm per day
by 2,100. Groundwater availability will also be impacted by saltwater
intrusion due to sea level rise. These predictions require a policy
framework in which all stakeholders are involved in collaborative,
sustainable freshwater management and where adaptation to lower natural
freshwater availability is prioritized.
Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

Introduction………………………………………………………. 4

Climate Change Projections for the Caribbean……………… 6

Methodology and The Water Balance………………………… 7

The Hydrological Cycle……………………………………. 7

Calculating The Water Balance……………………………. 8

Hydrological Climate Change Impacts………………………... 10

Surface Water……………………………………………….. 10

Groundwater………………………………………………... 11

Primary Stakeholders……………………………………………. 12

Adaptation Options……………………………………………… 13

Policy Recommendations……………………………………….. 14

Conclusion………………………………………………………… 15

References………………………………………………………… 16

Appendix………………………………………………………….. 18

Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic


Dominican Republic

Figure 1. Map of the Caribbean, with the Dominican Republic highlighted. Source: US
Geological Survey

The Dominican Republic is situated on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola at

north latitude 19˚00 and west longitude 17˚40. It occupies two-thirds of the island on the
east, with Haiti as its neighbor on the west. Its total surface area is 48,671 square
kilometers and its perimeter is approximately 1,963 kilometers, of which 388 kilometers
borders with Haiti. The climate is predominantly tropical with annual rainfall varying
by region from 700 to 2,400 mm per year (see Figure A in Appendix). The annual mean
temperature also varies by region from 25˚C to 30˚C (Secretariat on Environment and
Natural Resources, 2006).

The country enjoys one of the most abundant per capita water availability
endowments in Latin America, approximately 2,350 cubic meters of water runoff per
year per capita (Secretariat on Environment and Natural Resources, 2006). With a broad
set of watersheds due to the mountainous nature of the island (see Figure E in
Appendix), surface waters and groundwater storage can be found in every region of the
Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

country (see Figures B and D in Appendix). However, the climate is highly variable by
region, creating a situation where some areas have an abundance of water availability
and others have water scarcity (Roebuck, Fong, and Harlan, 2002). The mountainous
areas of the country can be found in the Cordilleras Central, Oriental, and Septentrional,
in addition to the Bahoruco and Neiba Sierras. The four most important sources of
surface water come from the Cordillera Central; these include, by order of economic
importance, the rivers Yaque del Norte, Yaque del Sur, Yuna, and Artibonito (Secretariat on
Environment and Natural Resources, 2006).

The country’s land use is also variable (see Figure C in Appendix).

Approximately 30% of the country’s land area is protected under the National System
of Protected Areas. The east’s vegetation is largely characterized by subtropical humid
forests, with mangroves in certain coastal areas; the north’s vegetation is characterized
with pine and montane cloud forests at high elevations; and the south’s vegetation is
largely grasslands, scrublands, and deserts. The principal economically important
urban areas are Santo Domingo (south; 3 million people), Santiago (north; 1 million
people), and La Romana (east; 300,000 people). Other important urban areas include
Higuey (east), La Vega (north), Puerto Plata (north), Samana (east), San Cristobal
(south), San Juan de la Maguana (north), and San Pedro de Macoris (east). In terms of
agriculture, which covers 10% of the land surface, the most important commodities are
sugar cane, cocoa, coffee, and tobacco (CIA, 2008). Other less economically important
commodities include bananas, plantains, rice, coconut, cassava, tomatoes, pulses, dry
beans, eggplants, peanuts, and meat and dairy products.

The country’s total population is approximately 9.5 million, with an annual

growth rate of 1.5%. In 2007, its gross domestic product (at purchasing power parity)
was approximately $62 billion, with a mean annual growth rate of 9.5% over the last
three years (CIA, 2008). The most important productive sectors are tourism, agriculture,
textiles, and mining. While the country has experienced significant growth over the last
two decades, unemployment is still approximately 14% and 36% of the population is
still considered to earn income that is below the poverty line (President’s Information,
Press, and Publicity Office, 2008). In addition, income inequality is significant, with 10%
of the population earning 40% of national income (CIA, 2008).

Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

The country suffers from various socioeconomic and environmental problems.

Political corruption, while becoming less of an issue, has traditionally been a significant
problem, especially in relation to projects that benefit the public. Some of the most
prominent problems, in addition to corruption and income inequality, include a lack of
good education, poor infrastructure in many areas, regular electricity blackouts, heavy
reliance on foreign oil, deforestation, drug trafficking, and a low access to potable
drinking water in some areas (CIA, 2008). In this assessment, we focus on the hydrology
of the country and the impacts climate change will have on water availability in the
future. Specifically, we analyze the current water situation and project climate change
impacts on precipitation, runoff, and storage. Finally, we provide a policy framework
under which potential solutions could be identified, assessed, and implemented
accordingly to cope with projected impacts.

Climate Change Projections for the Caribbean

Climate change poses a significant threat to regions across the world. Some of
these global impacts that are anticipated to affect the Dominican Republic include an
increase in temperature anywhere from 1.1°C to 4.5°C, as predicted by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007). This increase in temperature
will result in a warming of the oceans, which will likely lead to increased intensity of
hurricanes that could result in devastating physical, economic, and human losses. The
coastal areas of the Dominican Republic are also vulnerable to sea level rise, for which
the IPCC anticipates 18 to 59 cm by 2100 is likely. As we will show in this report, mid-
latitudes and semi-arid low latitudes are expected to experience decreased water
availability and increased drought (IPCC, 2007).

These climate predictions are likely to result in a wide range of impacts that will
impact the physical, economic, and environmental systems of the island. In a recent
study, Bueno et al. (2008) reported that without implementation of adaptation
strategies, climate change impacts will result in the loss of 19.6% of current GDP in the
Dominican Republic by 2050, and 40.3% loss of by 2100. In addition to these economic
impacts, climate change presents a real threat to human life, due to an anticipated
increase in stronger hurricanes, limitations in available freshwater, and decreased in
sanitary conditions. Bueno et al. (2008) provide a detailed breakdown of the breadth of
climate change impacts that the Dominican Republic is likely to experience this century:
Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

• Salt water intrusion that will threaten freshwater supply.

• Frequent and longer droughts, which will affect freshwater supply.
• Increased heat stress that will affect the health of vulnerable populations such
as the elderly.
• Water contamination from flooding that would further limit available
freshwater supply and worsen sanitary conditions.
• Increased temperature, resulting in agricultural and ecosystem losses,
especially of coral reefs and fisheries. In addition to the economic
implications of losing important fisheries, loss of coral reef habitat will also
result in economic impacts due to reduced tourism attraction.
• Tourism losses due to temperature changes, health risks, and degradation of
coastal environmental features such as beaches from storms and coastal

Methodology and The Water Balance

The projected increase in the regional mean annual temperature will have
significant effects on water availability. In order to fully assess the impact climate
change will have on the water resources available, it is necessary to understand the
hydrology of the country and identify a methodology. In this section, we describe the
country’s hydrologic dynamics and project climate change impacts on them.

The Hydrological Cycle

The Dominican Republic relies on surface water for most of its domestic uses, as
that is its largest storage of freshwater. The mean annual precipitation for the entire
country is approximately 1,400mm or 69 cubic kilometers, with most of it falling from
April to October, particularly during periods of heavy rainfalls, tropical storms, and
hurricanes. From the total precipitation, about 48 cubic kilometers of water are lost to
evapotranspiration, making only 21 cubic kilometers of water runoff available for
consumption annually (FAO, 2008). This water is stored in 14 watersheds, with some
having above necessary supplies and others having below necessary supplies (Roebuck,
Fong, and Harlan, 2002). There are 20 dams that store approximately 2 cubic kilometers
of freshwater annually. In addition, the country’s groundwater systems naturally
recharge approximately 2.2 cubic kilometers annually, with about 7.3 cubic kilometers
being stored (INDRHI, 2003, 2004). The rest of the water is either discharged to the
ocean or consumed (Roebuck, Fong, and Harlan, 2002; see Table A in Appendix). The
Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

table below summarizes the annual mean data that describes the hydrological cycle in
the Dominican Republic.

Table 1. Hydrological Data for the Dominican Republic (km3/yr)

Precipitation 69 Annual rainfall on the land surface.

Freshwater conversion from liquid to gas due to

Evapotranspiration 48
sunlight or plant transpiration.

Freshwater that flows from the land surface to water

Runoff 21
bodies, including the ocean.

Discharge 11 Freshwater that leaves the land surface into the ocean.

Freshwater that is annually renewed and kept in man-

Storage 9.3
made or natural systems.

Freshwater that is consumed for human and

Consumption 10
environmental purposes.
Source: Roebuck, Fang, and Harlan; INDRHI; FAO

Calculating the Water Balance

The water balance of any region or watershed can be calculated using a set of
simple equations that describe the inflow, outflow, and total storage of freshwater. In
general, the first simple equation that can help describe a hydrological system is the
conservation equation, which is written as follows (Dingman, 2002):

I – O = ΔS,

Where I is the incoming water quantity, O is the outgoing water quantity, and ΔS is the
change in storage. In general, the conservation equation, as well as all other hydrological
equations, applies to watersheds, which are regions characterized by spatial elevation
changes where all water that falls drains into one basin. Figure E in the Appendix
shows the relevant watersheds in the Dominican Republic.

In order to incorporate hydrological data, such as precipitation,

evapotranspiration, and runoff, the conservation equation is expanded to include more
Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

details and to allow analysis of the water balance with higher resolution. The time-
averaged water balance equation is used for this purpose and is written as follows:

P – ET = Q + Gout + ΔS,

Where P is precipitation, ET is evapotranspiration, Q is surface water outflow, and Gout

is groundwater outflow. Finally, to ensure sustainable water resource management of a
watershed, the sustainable time-averaged water balance equation is used. It is written, for
our specific purposes, as follows:

ΔS = P – ET – Q – Gout – C – D,

Where C is human consumption and D is water requirements for ecosystems. In

addition, other relevant equations generally used include the runoff ratio and its
integration with other hydrological parameters, and the water balance where the
change in storage is equal to zero, as follow:

W = Q/P

ET = (1 – W) x P, where w is the runoff ratio.

0 = P – ET – Q – Gout – C – D

For the purposes of this assessment, the following data is used:

Table 2. Hydrological Data for Water Balance Equation

P ET Q Gout C D
69 48 8.5 2.5 9.5 0.5
Source: Roebuck, Fang, and Harlan; INDRHI; FAO

Using the sustainable time-averaged water balance equation, assuming no

changes in storage, we find the following, in cubic kilometers per year:

69 (P) – 48 (ET) = 8.5 (Q) + 2.5 (Gout) + 9.5 (C) + 0.5 (D)

The left side of the equation represents total runoff (precipitation minus
evapotranspiration), which is the total water availability. With a population of 9.5

Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

million (excluding tourists), the total water availability per capita from runoff alone is
approximately 2,210 cubic meters, of which part must be left for ecosystem needs under
sustainable water resource management. This quantity does not include storage such as
groundwater and lakes, which are renewed over a period of time longer than one year.

While the country has abundant water supplies today, it is important to assess
what the impacts of future growth in consumption and climate change will have on
water availability. We now turn to assess the impacts that population growth and
climate change will have on total water availability.

Hydrological Climate Change Impacts

Climate change will impact the hydrology of the Dominican Republic by
reducing precipitation, increasing evapotranspiration, and causing saltwater intrusion
into groundwater systems (IPCC, 2007). The IPCC, the world’s leading authority on
climate change science, estimates that annual rainfall in the region will decrease by
approximately 20%, that evapotranspiration will increase by 0.1mm per day by the end
of the century, and that sea level will rise between 18 and 59cm. These estimates leave
out uncertainties about positive feedback effects in the carbon cycle, such as greenhouse
gas emissions from melting tundra.

Surface Water

As a result of a decrease of 20% in annual precipitation by 2100, an increase in

evapotranspiration of two cubic kilometers per year, and an increase in the population
to 14 million, there will be a sharp drop in the total runoff, impacting water availability
significantly. Population is expected to stabilize by mid-century to 14 million, according
United Nations projections. The table below summarizes the changes in these

Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

Table 3. Water Availability Projection for 2100

Per Capita
Precipitation Evapotranspiration Runoff
Volume (km3/yr)
55 50 5 3601
Data Source: IPCC, 2007

This significant drop in freshwater availability (84%) will be largely due to a

drop in total precipitation from 69 cubic kilometers per year to 55 cubic kilometers per
year by 2100 and a total increase in population size to 14 million. The figure below
shows how the drop in water availability will proceed this century assuming constant

Figure 2. Water Availability Projection With Climate

Change Scenario

Water Scarcity Threshold 360



In addition to surface water, groundwater will also be affected significantly. In

part, groundwater depends on rainfall that percolates into the ground. This effect has
already been accounted for in the assessment of surface water. According to the IPCC,

Over 75% of the IPCC models used to predict precipitation in the area agree.
Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

sea level will rise 18 to 59 cm this century, excluding uncertainties in positive feedback

It is also important to note that increasing reliance on groundwater will deplete

available resources and make it more difficult to extract remaining resources. As of
2000, groundwater withdrawal was up to 2.7 cubic kilometers per year when the
natural recharge rate was 2.2 cubic kilometers per year (INDRHI, 2004). With
decreasing surface water availability and increasing groundwater withdrawals
(assuming no changes in efficiencies), this alone will have a significant impact by
lowering water levels and facilitating saltwater intrusion. Modeling saltwater intrusion
as a result of sea-level rise and groundwater depletion will be necessary to understand
how much groundwater will actually be available in the future.

Primary Stakeholders
The reduced freshwater availability in the Dominican Republic this century will
have a significant impact on the entire population. In effect, this makes every sector in
the Dominican Republic a stakeholder because they all depend on freshwater.
However, there are key, identifiable stakeholders that are critical to the nation’s
economy and will be particularly impacted because of increasing water stress. We
identify these stakeholders in the following table.

Table 4. Key Stakeholders of Reduced Water Availability


Reduced rainfall and storage will reduce the amount of land under
agriculture and the amount of food produced.

Potentially reduced drinking water availability for domestic

Urban Areas
purposes, leading to higher prices.

Power Reduced power generation from hydroelectric plants and regulation

Production of thermal power plants, leading to higher electricity prices.

ote: Recent studies project sea-level rise to be on the order of one meter or more this century.

Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

Saltwater intrusion and prioritization of freshwater will make

freshwater access in tourism clusters difficult.

Significant impacts on manufacturing and other industrial sectors,

particularly textiles and mining.

Ecosystems Lower ecosystem quality and the loss of biodiversity.

Adaptation Options
The projected reductions in freshwater availability in the Dominican Republic
will require the largest water users to significantly reduce water consumption. In effect,
a strategy to adapt to lower freshwater availability inside the island will be necessary.
Planning and acting now for these future impacts would lessen the impacts reduced
freshwater availability may have and will save financial resources in the long-term. The
table below shows the potential adaptation options for various sectors.

Table 5. Adaptation Options in the Dominican Republic

Adaptation Options

Increased conservation agriculture; drip-water irrigation; drought-

Agriculture resistant crop varieties; water desalinization; treated sewage
application; tax incentives; and collaborative water management.

Increased conservation and efficiency; tax incentives; greywater

Urban Areas
recycling; water desalinization; and treatment and injection.

Power Alternative renewable energy production; increased efficiency; and

Production collaborative water management.

Increased conservation and efficiency; tax incentives; greywater

recycling; water desalinization; and treatment and injection.

Increased efficiency; tax incentives; greywater recycling; water

desalinization; and collaborative water management.

Ecosystems Increased freshwater allocation; reforestation; and increased protection.

Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

Policy Recommendations
The Dominican Republic faces a particularly challenging future in terms of
freshwater availability. According to United Nations Development Programme (2007),
the threshold for freshwater scarcity is approximately 1,000 cubic meters per capita per
year. We project that freshwater availability will reach this level around 2050 given no
adaptation measures. This projection comes at a time when the Dominican Republic’s
government and the United Nations’ Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon (as of 2008), are
counting on making the Dominican Republic the Caribbean’s “breadbasket” (Campo,
2008). In order to achieve such a goal, there will need to be substantial improvements in
the efficiency of the agricultural sector to ensure it can grow without reaching an
unsustainable threshold that will render further growth or stability impractical.

In order to address this challenge, a policy framework that is inclusive of all

stakeholders is necessary. The figure below depicts an adequate policy framework in
which appropriate government action could be made (Palma, 2008).

Figure 3. Policy Framework for Public-Private Sector Action

Concerns ational Institute of Legal Framework
Hydraulic Resources That Includes:

- Adaptation
Stakeholders State Secretariat on Measures
Environment and atural
Agriculture, Urban - Mandate for
Populations, Power Producers, Freshwater
Tourism, Industry, Assessment
Ecosystems State Secretariat on
Agriculture - Agency
Authority to
Implement Law
ational Institute on
Assistance and Potable Water and Sewer

This policy framework should be based on the understanding that water

availability will be stressed in the future and that institutions have to work much more
collaboratively than in the past. It is important to consider policy options that will

Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

address the challenge effectively and involve all stakeholders. Recently, the country’s
National Institute for Hydraulic Resources has advocated for the adoption of a Water
Code to replace old legislation and authorize the Institute to regulate effective and
rational water management nationally (INDRHI, 2008). Given the projections of this
assessment, passage of new legislation is necessary. This new legislation must consider
the following policy recommendations to effectively address upcoming water

• Provide the authority to a government institution to fully regulate freshwater

resources, which would include the power to implement price incentives and act
as a mediator in controlling freshwater rights in conflicting situations;

• Assess freshwater resources across the country and ensure that all necessary
information is existing and readily available to the public;

• Fully assess all available technologies and methodologies for every sector,
particularly agriculture, and the access to these in domestic and foreign markets;

• Provide fiscal incentives to large freshwater users to increase conservation and

protect or restore ecosystems, such as forested mountain regions, valuable to the
nation’s hydrology; and

• Fund a national freshwater conservation campaign to raise awareness of

freshwater conservation and promote public-private freshwater stewardship.

The Dominican Republic faces a serious challenge this century. While there is
enough freshwater today to fulfill the nation’s needs, freshwater availability is projected
to decline by approximately 85% by the end of the century due to climate change and
population growth. With a fast-growing economy, the nation will have to consider
adaptation strategies that will allow livelihoods to continue to improve this century,
particularly given that water demand is set to rise. Nevertheless, the country has the
opportunity to begin planning now, within the broader framework of climate change
adaptation, for the medium to long term to avoid having freshwater availability become
a crisis that will significantly compromise the well-being of its citizens. This will require
new policy to enable collaborative, sustainable freshwater management and incentivize
dramatic improvements in conservation across the country.

Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

Bueno, Ramon et al. 2008. “The Caribbean and Climate Change: The Costs of Inaction.”
Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University.

Campo, Iban. 2008. “Queremos convertirnos en el granero del Caribe.” El País.

Central Intelligence Agency. 2008. “Dominican Republic.” The World Factbook.

Dingman, S. Lawrence. 2002. “Physical Hydrology.” 2nd Edition, Prentice Hall.

Food and Agriculture Organization. 2008. “Summary Fact Sheet: Dominican Republic.”
AquaStat: Global Information System on Water and Agriculture.

Instituto Nacional de Recursos Hidráulicos de la República Dominicana. 2003.

“Recursos Hídricos y Ley de Aguas.” Estadísticas Ambientales de América Latina y el

Instituto Nacional de Recursos Hidráulicos de la República Dominicana. 2004. “Boletín

Hidrogeológico.” Estadísticas Ambientales de América Latina y el Caribe.

Instituto Nacional de Recursos Hidráulicos de la República Dominicana. 2004.

“Resumen Hidrológico Ejecutivo.” Estadísticas Ambientales de América Latina y el

Instituto Nacional de Recursos Hidráulicos de la Republica Dominicana. 2008. “Codigo

del Agua es meta del INDRHI.”

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2007. “Climate Change 2007: The

Synthesis Report.” United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Oficina de Información, Prensa, y Publicidad. 2008. “Mandatario destaca avances

logrados en la reducción de desempleo.” Presidencia de la Republica Dominicana.

Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

Oficina de Información, Prensa, y Publicidad. 2008. “Gobierno hace esfuerzo por

reducir la pobreza y la desigualdad social.” Presidencia de la Republica Dominicana.

Oficina Sectorial de Planificación y Programación. 2006. “Indicadores de Sostenibilidad

del Recurso Hídrico en la República Dominicana.” Secretaria de Estado de Medio
Ambiente y Recursos Naturales de la República Dominicana.

Palma, Alejandro Gomez. 2008. “La Política Publica como enfoque estratégico y
metodología.” Instituto de Políticas Públicas Para America Latina.

Population Division. 2007. “World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision.”

Department of Economic and Social Welfare of the United Nations.

Roebuck, Laura W.; Fong, Alan W.; and Harlan, Amy E. 2002. “Water Resources
Assessment of the Dominican Republic.” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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Fighting Climate Change, Human Solidarity in a Divided World.” United Nations.

Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic


Table A. Total Water Consumption by Sector, 2001

Volume (km3/yr) Percentage of Total (%)

Irrigation 7,500 76

Domestic Uses 1,450 15

Ecosystems 500 5

Industrial 305 3

Cattle Farming 45 0.5

Tourism 40 0.5

Figure A. Mean Annual Rainfall Variation in the Dominican Republic

Sources: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Secretariat on Environment and Natural Resources.
Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

Figure B. Groundwater Systems in the Dominican Republic.

Figure C. Land Use in the Dominican Republic. Orange, yellow, and light green are agricultural

Climate Change Impacts on the Hydrology of the Dominican Republic

Figure D. Main Freshwater Zones in the Dominican Republic (highlighted).

Figure E. Watersheds in the Dominican Republic.