LA PAZ – Although some neighborhoods in La Paz implemented water rationing more than two months ago because of the drought, in the city’s Cotahuma district residents are self-managing their water use through cooperatives.
“There’s no water, they say, but here there’s plenty!” said Toribio, a local resident.
Cotahuma, which means “lake of water” in Aymara, has some 250,000 residents, almost one-third of La Paz’s population, and its plentiful water supply stands in sharp contrast to the limited supply in other parts of the city, with the authorities undertaking projects to shunt water among reservoirs and military aircraft seeding the clouds to try and bring rain.
Cotahuma Deputy Mayor Freddy Mercado said that “It’s a macro-district blessed by God because we have a lot of runoff water” streaming down the hillside on which the district is located.
Initially, it posed a danger. The water coming down the hillside damaged homes and caused mudslides, burying houses.
But then, a couple of decades ago, the residents began organizing cooperatives because the Epsas public water supply company never paid any attention to meeting the districts needs, Mercado said.
“Via neighborhood work, they built pools or wells ... where they’re trying to chlorinate and filter water for internal consumption,” although the locals had no technical expertise or logistical support, he said.
Nevertheless, the deputy mayor added that now the water in the zone “is almost pure and crystal clear.”
When they were started, each cooperative supplied just 10 or so families, but now each of the 10 operating in the zone supplies hundreds of families.
Nowadays, each family pays about 30 bolivianos ($4) per year for their water from the cooperatives, in contrast to the 100 bolivianos per month that Epsas charges per household.
Nevertheless, nowadays there is not as much available water as in years past, with the parts of Cotahuma closest to the city of El Alto suffering cuts in the water supply.
Cata, an Aymara laundress, says that she has water at home just twice a week, although she says that each day she pays a cooperative about $0.60 to be able to work at her job where she earns about $1.50 for washing a dozen articles of clothing – going to the homes of local people to collect the dirty laundry and returning the cleaned and dried clothing to them.
“They don’t want to pay more,” she said, adding that she washes three or four dozen articles per day.