Chile targets unused water rights in reform

Friday, June 27, 2014

Chile's government is targeting unused water rights in a reform that increases the state's role in the water sector.

"We don't think unused water rights are reasonable," energy minister Máximo Pacheco was quoted as saying by La Tercera newspaper.

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Pacheco sits on a ministerial council along with the public works, environment and mining ministers that is drawing up proposals to reform water regulations in the country, part of a larger restructuring in the sector.

"The water the electric power sector takes is water that returns to water flows in the same quantity and condition. What makes us feel uncomfortable is that there are so many areas in Chile where projects can't take place because there's a captive water market and there's nowhere to get that water," Pacheco said.

Chile's proposed reform of water rights and regulations is designed to fight speculators at a time when the country is in the grips of a severe drought.

Last month, President Michelle Bachelet announced plans to declare water a "national good of public use" and to change current water rights, alleging the system had been subject to misuse and mismanagement.

Currently, Chile awards water rights to private consumers, who can trade those rights in any way they see fit.

According to Chile's environment ministry, 73% of the country's water is used for agriculture, while industry uses 12%, mining 9% and householders some 6%. However, in some areas, such as Copiapó valley in the north, where water is particularly scarce, mines account for up to 31% of water usage, and in some areas of Tarapacá region in the far north, copper mines use up to 60% of water.

Authorities have acknowledged that the water situation in Chile is worrisome following a five-year drought.