Aerial view of Atibainha dam, part of the Cantareira reservoir, one of the main water suppliers in Sao Paulo state. In August 2015, the reservoir was below 17 percent of capacity. Photo: Victor Moriyama / Getty Images

By Claire Rigby
19 August 2015

São Paulo, Brazil (Los Angeles Times) – Officials in São Paulo state have announced that the water shortage in the city of the same name is now "critical," with multimillion-dollar emergency construction projects so far failing to ease the situation.

The announcement was the first time the state government officially recognized the severity of the water crisis and permits the suspension of licenses that allow agriculture, industry and other private concerns to draw directly from area water supplies.

The statement, issued Tuesday, comes at the height of Brazil's dry season, with water levels in São Paulo city's two main reservoirs extremely low. The Cantareira reservoir is below 17% of capacity; the Alto Tiete reservoir, which at this point in 2013 was at 60.9% of capacity, is at just 15.4%.

Southeastern Brazil is facing its worst drought in more than 80 years. The city of São Paulo, which usually averages a scant-enough 1.4 inches of rain in August, has had scarcely a trace this month. It is the largest city in South America, with a population of about 20 million.

Intended as quick fixes to a problem that critics say has been brewing for years, civil engineering emergency "mega-projects" undertaken by the Sao Paulo state government have run into problems, exacerbating the situation and helping to trigger this week's announcement.

The first project, at a cost of $8.3 million, was inaugurated June 29 by Gov. Geraldo Alckmin and connects the River Guaio to the Taiacupeba Reservoir via a pipeline intended to carry about 265 gallons of water a second into São Paulo city's water supply. But the pumps have been idle because of insufficient flow in the small river as a result of dry weather.

Another megaproject, the largest underway, is expected to carry water from Billings Reservoir into the Alto Tiete system via a nearly 7-mile pipeline. Originally scheduled to begin operation in May, work on the $37.4-million project didn't start until May 4, with its launch date first pushed back to August and then to October.

The "critical situation" statement says that "special measures should be taken to secure the availability of water in a safe and efficient manner." That opens the way for the possible suspension of licenses that authorize businesses, agricultural enterprises and private entities to draw directly from São Paulo's rivers and reservoirs and groundwater via artesian wells. [more]

Drought drives water shortage to critical stage in Sao Paulo, Brazil


  1. Anonymous said...

    Brazil looks grossly incompetent. They've had warnings for years but did nothing to heed them. Even when water levels dropped severely, they failed to respond with rationing. It's as if they "don't want to look bad" while people die of thirst.



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