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Cantareira Reservoir - Aereal View - Sao Paulo - Brazil - February 2014

Level in Cantareira System falls to 18.2 percent
São Paulo – Brazil – February 2014
Photo Credit – Cenário MT


Brazil’s largest city of São Paulo and its Greater Metropolitan Area are running out of water. Due to its worse prolonged drought since 1930, the State’s complex Cantareira System of reservoirs is drying up. Managed by the Basic Sanitation Company of the State of São Paulo (Sabesp), the Cantareira System supplies water to 8.8 million residential and industrial clients.

Alarms sounded in summer. Rainfall in December 2013 was 72 percent below normal. Reductions continued in the New Year with 66 percent in January and 64 percent in February. Exceptionally high temperatures aggravated the situation.

Starting in February 2014, Sabesp offered a 30 percent discount to consumers who reduced their consumption by 20 percent. By August 11, about 22 percent of consumers had not heeded the call for conserving water. Forty percent of customers had benefitted from the discount. Consumption data indicated far lower reductions for upscale neighborhoods than for low-income homes.

Cantareira Reservoir - Sadesp - Sao Paulo - Brazil - February 2014

Cantareira System – São Paulo – Brazil – August 2014
Photo Credit: Luciano Claudino/Frame/Folhapress

Professor at the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo and president of the Water World Council, hydrologist Benedito Braga defended changing the present system of water rates.

“The only way to make people reduce their consumption is to create an impact on their wallet,” Braga told BBC Brazil.

He proposed tripling the water rate after a reasonable limit with a six fold rate thereafter.

“When the consumer receives the bill, he’ll realize he can’t pay the bill and will understand that there’s a crisis and economize,” Braga added.

In July 2014, for the first time since its foundation, active water volume in the Cantareira System shrunk to zero. The inactive reserve, known as “dead water,” was 18.5 percent.

Cantareira System - Jaguari-Jacarei Reservoir - May 2014

Cantareira System – Jaguari/Jacarei Reservoir – May 2014
Seven pumps are used to capture the “dead water”
Photo Credit: Fábio Lemos Lopes

After studies revealed that the “dead water” would last until October 2014, if the drought persisted, federal prosecutors recommended immediate water rationing. As at August 30, 2014, the active volume plus reserve has fallen to 11.1 percent.

Vice-director of the Institute of Hydraulic Research, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, blamed São Paulo’s water crisis on poor management. For about a year, the CEOs at Sabesp knew about falling water levels and did nothing until it was too late. The professor recommended educational campaigns for ways of reducing water consumption and cuts in the water supply to reduce consumption.

Brazil’s federal government has awakened to the need to reduce the risks associated with droughts and floods across the country. On August 20, 2014, the National Water Agency (ANA) presented in Brasília its National Plan of Hydric Security (PNSH). In partnership with the Ministry of National Integration and the World Bank, ANA has set 2035 as the delivery date for the proposed structural and integrated national system necessary to guarantee water supply for Brazil’s human consumption and productive activities.

We can no longer take for granted an abundance of water. Faced with climate change of extreme droughts, floods, and temperatures, we have to manage and use our water resources with new awareness.