Water shortage deepens in central, northern Chile

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Chile's water resources will grow scarcer in 2014-15, following below average rain and snowfall in central and northern regions.

"The past five years have been one of the driest periods in the last 100 years," water department director Carlos Estévez said.

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"The water situation is normal in the south, but quite serious in northern and central Chile," public works undersecretary Sergio Galilea said.

The country's northern and central regions, spanning between Atacama (III) and O'Higgins (VI), have experienced a 50% rainfall deficit and an 80% snowfall deficit for the season. Rainfall is a major source of water supply into the area's rivers and reservoirs, apart from snow and glacier melt.

El Yeso, a major source of drinking water for Santiago's metropolitan area, saw water reserves decline 31% in August compared to the same year-ago month, and is currently at 58% of its capacity.

Galilea said the reservoir contains enough water to meet residential demand.

In Atacama and Coquimbo regions (IV), however, the situation is more critical, as water resources are insufficient to cover a growing demand.

Galilea also said the government is considering a range of measures, including drilling deeper wells and redistributing water, to maintain water irrigation needs for farmers.

President Michelle Bachelet is about to send to congress a bill that would limit water rights and extend government authority to regulate the sector, claiming the current system has led to misuse and mismanagement of water resources.