SAO PAULO – Brazil’s Sao Paulo state water supply company admitted on Wednesday that the Cantareira reservoir system, the main reservoir for the country’s largest and most populous state, could completely dry up in March because of last year’s drought and that current rainfall is not raising the water level.
“It’s possible that it will dry up in March. If it continues like this it’s possible. So, that’s why we’re closing the taps,” the president of Sao Paulo state’s Sabesp basic sanitation company, Jerson Kelman, told Globo television.
On Jan. 9, when he took over the post, Kelman warned that “we need to start preparing for the worst.”
The Cantareira system – which supplies about 6.5 million people or about a third of the metropolitan region’s population – is operating with the so-called “dead volume,” a technical reserve that amounts to 6.4 percent of its capacity.
Studies performed by the Science and Technology Ministry show that if rainfall remains at current levels, something that is not guaranteed in the weather forecasts, the system could conceivably “survive” until June.
Kelman’s remarks came at practically the same time that Sao Paulo Gov. Geraldo Alckmin for the first time on Wednesday admitted that the regional capital and several nearby municipalities are rationing water, something he attributed to the fact that the national regulatory authorities ordered the water pressure in the system to be reduced.
With the admission of rationing, judicial authorities will be able to authorize the collection of fines for excess consumption, as officials had decreed but which were suspended because, to be effective, they must be accompanied by an official acknowledgement of rationing by the regional government.
Sao Paulo in 2014 suffered its worst water crisis since 1930, a drought that forced the regional government to take measures such as crediting users for reducing water consumption and punishing those who increased their consumption with fines.
The rains in last year’s second quarter in southeastern Brazil were considerably less than had been hoped for and, although so far in 2015 there have been heavy rains in the area, the precipitation has only served to keep water levels stable for a few days.
The intense summer rains, which have knocked down more than 900 trees over the past two weeks and resulted in six people killed by lightning and flooding, have been concentrated in downtown Sao Paulo rather than in the areas near the dams and reservoirs.