Agriculture association challenges SISS over sale of treated wastewater

Friday, January 28, 2011

Chile's national agriculture association SNA has begun judicial proceedings against national sanitation service authority SISS for allowing water utilities to sell treated wastewater.

SNA issued a public declaration that utilities have no right to sell treated wastewater, igniting a lively debate surrounding water rights, following allegations that utilities are selling water to mining companies rather than returning them to rivers for use in agriculture.

The association argues SISS erroneously interpreted Chilean laws by allowing utilities to sell the water, saying that water rights granted to utilities require treated water to be returned to its original source.

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SISS's decision poses a grave threat to agriculture and could result in the loss of thousands of hectares of crops, according to SNA.

National water utility association Andess responded with its own public declaration rejecting SNA's claim, saying water utilities have never appropriated water rights they do not own.

Andess goes on to say utilities use barely 6% of the country's water, while agriculture uses some 80%, and in many cases uses it inefficiently due to antiquated irrigation processes.

The association also criticized SNA for its attempts to use small farmers to put pressure on the courts, pointing out that the same arguments were used in a 2003 case that was rejected by the Santiago court of appeals.

The issue now sits before the supreme court in a case that deals specifically with utility Aguas Andinas. The utilities claim their water rights are consumptive, which means they are not required to return treated water to the source. However, SNA has argued otherwise.

The agriculture association warned against the precedent set if the court rules for SISS, noting that there are 265 wastewater treatment plants in the country that could start selling treated water, striking an "irreversible blow" to agriculture.