How critical is Chile's water crisis?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chile's water reservoirs are operating 66% below historical average levels, local newspaper El Mercurio reported. The country continues to face a severe drought, as lawmakers discuss policies to increase efficiency and tighten regulations.

Water stored in reservoirs stood at 2.63Bm3 in June, a 4.2% increase compared to last year, as a result of heavy rains in central and southern Chile. But they have not provided enough precipitation to overturn the impact of a five-year drought.

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"It will take three to four more years of average rainfall for reservoirs to return to their historical average levels," said general waters director Carlos Estévez, as quoted by El Mercurio.

Out of 26 reservoirs, only four small irrigation reservoirs are above average levels for this time of year: La Laguna in Coquimbo region (IV), Convento Viejo in O'Higgins region (VI), Tutuvén in Maule region (VII) and Coihueco in Bío Bío region (VIII).

However, larger reservoirs such as Lago Laja, Lago Maule and Colbún – which are used for both irrigation and electric power generation – are at 13.5%, 23% and 38% of historical average storage, respectively.

Chile's meteorological office has forecast that El Niño weather phenomenon will bring above-average rainfall along a 1,600km stretch from Copiapó to southern Puerto Montt.

Twelve of the 22 locations monitored by the meteorological office have registered surplus rainfall so far this year. Central-northern La Serena city currently has a 309% surplus compared to a normal year, central-southern Curicó has a 56% surplus and southern Valdivia a 9% one.

However, more than 10 provinces in central Valparaíso and Coquimbo, Maule and Biobío are still experiencing water shortages, meaning authorities have extraordinary powers to secure potable water supply.