Cracked ground in an area which used to be underwater at the Jaguari dam, 5 September 2014. The dam is part of the Cantareira system, which faces the worst drought in São Paulo's history. Photo: Nelson Almeida / AFP / Getty Images

By Marianna Musset
15 September 2014

(tcktcktck.org) – The ongoing drought crisis in São Paulo has reached a critical level that continues towards rock bottom. Brazil’s largest city, home to more than 9 million people, could run dry in the next 100 days according to Brazil’s Public Ministry.

The Cantareira reservoir which supplies 45% of the city’s metropolitan population has reached a record low of 10.7% capacity. Despite ongoing recommendations to implement water rationing to the city, the São Paulo state have failed to do so.

Instead, they have turned to financial incentives to promote reduced water consumption amongst its citizens and tapping supplies from other reservoirs. Customers who reduce their water use by 20% are offered a 30% reduction in their annual water bill. Sabesp, São Paulo’s water utility company, claims the measure has been as effective as water rationing would have been at reducing water use.

However, as water levels have continued to decrease Sabesp have resorted to pumping what is known as dead water from three out of five of the Cantareira reservoirs. Dead water refers to the water below the minimum water level that is not normally used.

Political motivations have been cited as the cause of the denial of the severity of the drought crisis as the looming October elections are just around the corner.

Deforestation and climate change impact the flying rivers of the Amazon

Southeastern Brazil has suffered from its driest six months in 84 years.

Not only have temperatures been higher than usual but rains that usually travel southwards from the Amazon at this time of year have failed to arrive.

“The last rainy season was drier than the dry season,” Mauro Arce, São Paulo’s water resources secretary, told the Guardian.

The missing rains have been blamed on the loss of what is known as the “flying rivers”- the massive volumes of water vapour released from the Amazonian trees.

Brazilian scientists warn the absence of these flying rivers is not a quirk of nature but a symptom of continuing deforestation in the Amazon compounded by climate change.

The latest figures released by the Brazilian government show that Amazon deforestation has increased by 29%  in 2013, reversing gains made in the region since 2009. [more]

Brazil’s drought: Sao Paulo – 100 days till rockbottom


By Jonathan Watts in
5 September 2014

São Paulo (The Guardian) – From his front door to the banks of the Cantareira reservoir, José Christiano da Silva used to stroll only a hundred metres when he first moved to the area in 2009. Today, amid the worst drought in São Paulo's history, he must now trek a kilometre across the dried-up bed before he reaches what's left of the most important water supply for South America's biggest city.

"It's frightening to look at," says the retiree, standing on cracked mud. "In the past, we'd already be under water here." After the driest six months since records began 84 years ago, the volume of the Cantareira system has fallen to 10.7% of its capacity, raising alarms for the nearby urban population of 20 million people and the most important economic hub on the continent.

The drought, affecting Brazil's southeast and central regions, has prompted rationing in 19 cities, undermined hydropower generation, pushed up greenhouse gas emissions and led to squabbles between states vying for dwindling water resources.

Supplies are usually abundant. Brazil has 12% of the world's freshwater and less than 3% of the world population. Apart from the arid northeastern Cerrado, its cities are normally more likely to be plagued with floods than droughts. With big rivers like the Amazon and Paraná, the country generally meets 80% of energy needs with hydropower.

But this year, the rain fronts that are normally carried south from the humid Amazon have largely failed to materialise and temperatures have been higher than usual, prompting the authorities to scrabble to tap new sources and reduce demand. "It has been a terrible year. The last rainy season was drier than the dry season," Mauro Arce, São Paulo's water resources secretary, told the Guardian. "This is a crisis and we are responding with technical measures and the support of consumers."

In São Paulo city, that has meant financial incentives to encourage residents and businesses to reduce consumption, the reduction of water pressure by 75% at night (which in effect means a cut for those – often the poor – living in high areas) and tapping alternative supplies. In neighbouring cities, like Gaurulhos, more draconian measures are in place with some neighbourhoods only able to get water one day in three.

Tensions have emerged between cities, and between those who want water for energy and those who need it for drinking, food and sanitation.

São Paulo has tussled with Rio de Janeiro over the use of the Rio Jaguari, a river that runs across state borders and is used by the latter for hydropower plants and to dilute sewage in the absence of adequate treatment plants. São Paulo, which is downstream, has tapped this river to partially recuperate the Paraiba reservoir system despite the protests of its neighbour and admonitions from the federal government.

"We're defending the inhabitants of São Paulo," said Arce. "Brazilian law is very clear. In situations like the one we face now, the priority is people and animals … People in Rio should have no concerns. They have a lot of water." [more]

Brazil drought crisis leads to rationing and tensions


By Vanessa Dezem 
19 September 2014 

(Bloomberg) – Brazil’s São Paulo state is rationing water for more than 3.6 million people in 29 cities as reservoirs dry up amid months of drought, O Globo said.

The state’s reservoir levels continue to decline, with the Cantareira system that supplies almost half of the state’s population just 8.6 percent full this week, the Rio de Janeiro-based newspaper said.

The drought is the state’s worst in decades. São Paulo is home to 44 million people, in 645 cities, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, known as IBGE.

Cia. de Saneamento Basico do Estado de São Paulo, or Sabesp, is among the world’s largest water utilities.

Sao Paulo Rationing Water for 3.6 Million People, O Globo Says

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