Machines providing water and sewage services to residential, commercial, and industrial areas work next to pumps from the Brazil's depleted Jaguari dam. Photo: Paulo Whitaker / Reuters

By Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
10 March 2015

(NPR) – Geologists say the problem with wildcatters is that new wells are contaminating São Paulo's natural aquifer not to mention damaging the structure of many buildings.



In Brazil, prospectors are hoping to strike the mother load. And what they are drilling for isn't your usual scarce resource, as NPR's South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro explains.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The drill bores through the concrete floor of the loading bay of a large factory, spewing up mud and rock. Precious minerals or oil have been the traditional target of operations like this. But here in São Paulo, there is a massive drought. And everyone's looking for one thing that used to be in abundance here - water.

MAURICIO AFONSO DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mauricio Afonso dos Santos has been drilling wells for 20 years. In a city, it requires precision and technology, he says. "We dig down between 500 feet and 1,200 feet to find potable water," he says. "We have to be extremely careful. As you can tell right here, we're 10 feet away from the side of the building," he tells me. He says his orders have doubled in the last year and have come from some unusual places, including a love motel.

DOS SANTOS: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because they use a lot of water and they had a lot of rooms and a lot of turnover of clients, so they had a big demand for their own source of water, he's saying.

DOS SANTOS: (Laughter) Great. (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Until the water crisis, most people wanted a well simply to reduce their water bill," he says. But now it's because they're afraid they won't have any water at all. Many parts of Sao Paulo have seen their water cut off for days at a time.

UNIDENTIFIED MANAGER: The public system cannot afford to supply us the amount of water we need. That's why we had to dig a well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the manager of the company where the well is being dug today. He doesn't want his name or the company name used because of corporate policy restricting discussion of logistics issues. In the area of São Paulo where his company is based, there is severe water rationing already taking place.

UNIDENTIFIED MANAGER: So an industry to have this kind of uncertainty of water supply is a very hard.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think the drought is affecting businesses?

UNIDENTIFIED MANAGER: Absolutely. Absolutely. [more]

Sao Paulo's Drought Pits Water Prospectors Against Wildcatters



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