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Will Chile's "water highway" see the light of day?

Bnamericas Published: Friday, June 13, 2014

Chile's US$15bn Aquatacamawater pipeline could start being built by the end of President Michelle Bachelet's administration, in 2018, if the government ever gets round to approving the project.

Félix Bogliolo, founding partner and director of French consultancy firm Vía Marina, has been promoting the 1,600km freshwater pipeline, designed to transport water from rivers in southern Chile to the north of the country, since Bachelet's first term in office (2006-10).

"We received good feedback on the project during Bachelet's first government, but that doesn't always translate into actions. Now it's up to them to decide and see if they're really interested; if they wish to prioritize it and are willing to take the necessary steps to develop it," Bogliolo told BNamericas.

"We've come up with a work schedule that would allow this government to inaugurate works," he added in an interview on the sidelines of the CG/LA infrastructure conference in Cartagena, Colombia.

Pre-works include technical, engineering and environmental studies, as well as the development of a pilot program.

The decision to give a fresh push to the project comes as Bachelet aims to tighten regulations in the water sector, claiming misuse and mismanagement of water resources. The country's central and northern regions are also in their fifth year of a severe drought, with Coquimbo region (IV) facing its worst water crisis in a century.

"Chile had a problem, continues to have a problem and it's only getting worse," Bogliolo added.

In addition, Chile has a water distribution problem. The country receives 53,000m3 of rainwater per person every year, eight times more than the global average and 25 times more than the minimum needed for sustainable development. However, 84% of the water that runs through rivers flows into the Pacific Ocean unused, and water demand is already exceeding supply in all the regions north of Santiago.

According to Chile's environment ministry, 73% of the country's water is used for irrigation, while industry uses 12%, mining 9% and households 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 (I) in the far north, copper producers use up to 60% of water.

Aquatacama, which is designed to transfer up to 100m3/s, could provide sufficient water to cultivate an additional 228,550ha of land.

Washington-based consultancy CG/LA labeled the Aquatacama water pipeline as Latin America's most strategic infrastructure project, one of a series of projects that could be developed within the next three to 18 months.

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