Operator Series: Chile's Aguas Andinas invests to fend off outages

By
Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Chilean water utility Aguas Andinas, which supplies the Santiago metropolitan region, had a turbulent start of the year. In late February, unusually strong rains during the Chilean summer caused a water service outage in the metropolitan region, prompting heavy criticism from consumers and local authorities, who said that the firm should have done more to prepare its infrastructure.

Regulator SISS filed charges seeking fines, accusing Aguas Andinas of failing to report the service outages in a timely manner and for its deficient response to the emergency.

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Some of its subsidiaries face problems of their own, most noticeably ESSAL, which serves the southern Los Lagos (X) and Los Ríos (XIV) regions. Since March, the utility is being investigated by local officials over its alleged responsibility in discharging wastewater in two lakes. The company has been sued by the municipalities of Puerto Varas and Panguipulli over the issue.

INVESTMENT PLAN

Aguas Andinas announced an investment plan to prevent further water outages in the future, while ESSAL has a plan of its own to deal with the wastewater problems in the south.

In the capital, the parent company announced that it would invest 120bn pesos (US$180mn) on mitigation works to prevent service cuts. The works would extend the water system's autonomous capacity during emergencies – such as the rise of turbidity levels during heavy rains – and increase potable water reserves by 25%.

This is part of a larger US$830mn plan announced last year for the 2015-20 period. It includes a US$85mn reservoir to be built in the Pirque municipality, which received the approval of environmental regulator SEA back in September. The project will install six raw water tanks with a combined capacity of 1.5Mm3. Water from the Maipo river will be pumped into the tanks.

In case of an emergency like the one in February, the tanks will provide water to the Las Vizcachas potable water plant, preventing service outages in the capital. This would increase the autonomous capacity of the Santiago water system to 32 hours, up from the current nine, the company claims. 

But the utility is also carrying out projects for short-term needs. One was required by SISS after the February outage, and calls for installing nine water tanks in the Peñalolén, La Reina, La Florida, La Pintana and Puente Alto districts.

These tanks would have a combined capacity of 54,000m3. As of October 26, works had advanced 40% and were expected to be completed by the first half of 2018, according to Aguas Andinas and SISS.

ESSAL is also performing an investment plan of its own in response to the criticisms and legal actions against the company. The utility has pledged to invest US$16mn to improve its wastewater treatment and disposal systems.