city began using its second so-called “technical reserve” 10
days ago to prevent a water crisis after reservoirs reached
critically low levels last month.
This is the first time the state has resorted to using the reserves,
“If we take into account the same pattern of water extraction and
rainfall that we’ve seen so far this month – and it’s been raining
less than half of the average – we can say the (reserve) will last
up to 60 days,” said Marussia Whately, a water resources specialist
at environmental NGO Instituto Socioambiental.
But an expected increase in water usage during the upcoming
Christmas and New Year’s holidays could easily reduce the time the
reserve will last, she added.
After that period, there is no certainty over the water supply
available to Brazil’s wealthiest city and financial center, Whately
If rain doesn’t replenish the Cantareira system - the main group of
reservoirs that supply São Paulo - the city could run dry, she said.
A third and final technical reserve might be used, but it is
difficult to access and mixed with silt that could make pumping it
to users difficult, according to Vicente Andreu, the president of
the water regulatory agency ANA.
“I believe that, technically, it would be unviable. But if it
doesn’t rain, we won’t have an alternative but to get water from the
mud,” Andreu said at a hearing about the water crisis in Brasilia’s
Lower House of Congress on Nov. 13.
Brazil’s southeast region is suffering its worst drought in at least
80 years after an unusually dry year left rivers and reservoirs at
critically low levels.
Antonio Nobre, a leading climate scientist at INPE, Brazil’s
National Space Research Institute, has linked Brazil’s worsening
drought to global warming and deforestation in the Amazon. Both are
drastically reducing the release of billions of liters of water by
rainforest trees, which reduces rainfall further south, he said.
PLANNING AND POLITICAL FAILURES
Poor planning and a lack of investment to boost reservoir capacity
also have left São Paulo teetering on the brink of disaster, experts
A presidential election in October, which pitted the governing
Workers Party (PT) against the opposition Social Democracy Party (PSDB),
led São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB to delay taking
action on the water shortage - such as ordering mandatory rationing
- for fear of losing votes during his reelection campaign, experts
Now some fear changes are coming too late for São Paulo. Alckmin has
pledged to invest 3.5 billion reais ($1.4 billion) to build new
reservoirs and improve distribution - but most of the work won’t be
completed for at least a year.
Brazil’s government has treated the crisis as a temporary problem
that would likely go away with the first heavy rains of the summer,
rather than a sign of potentially longer-term problems with water
security, Andreu said.
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He has criticized the government’s response to the crisis and its
inaction when scientists last year started to warn about a
potentially devastating drought in 2014.
Now politicians admit there is a crisis, and they are finally taking
The states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, where more
than half of Brazil’s GDP is produced, on Nov. 27 agreed on works to
divert water from the main river that supplies Rio de Janeiro to
reservoirs in São Paulo.
Civil society organizations are pressing the government to take more
radical action, such as mandatory rationing.
LOOKING TO 2015
The Alliance for Water, a growing group of NGOs that includes
Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy and WWF, is demanding a plan to
prepare for next year’s dry season, which starts in April.
“We are starting 2015 with a serious deficit that won’t be resolved
this summer, so we must start thinking about what to do in April,
when the dry season begins and we won’t have any more technical
reserves to use,” said Whately, who is coordinating the Alliance for
Sabesp, the water utility that serves São Paulo, accessed a first
emergency water reserve in May totaling 480 billion liters.
That reserve started to run out in the second half of October, and
reservoirs reached just 3 percent of their capacity on Oct. 21.
State-owned Sabesp was then allowed to tap a second emergency
reserve, of 106 billion liters, lifting reservoir capacity above 10
But now, just weeks after this second emergency supply started to be
used, water levels at the Cantareira reservoirs are once again below
10 percent, according to the company.
The third reserve, with 200 billion liters of water, is the deepest,
and is located in smaller reservoirs and in passageways that connect
reservoirs, which are harder to tap.
Unlike the water in the reservoirs, which are drawn by gravity, the
reserves water must be pumped out, according to ANA’s Andreu.
(Reporting by Adriana Brasileiro, editing by Laurie Goering)
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