“Taps Run Dry in Brazil’s Largest City”
The New York Times, February 17, 2015, p.A4
“Endowed with the Amazon and other mighty rivers, an array of huge dams and one-eighth of the world’s fresh water, Brazil is sometimes called the ‘Saudi Arabia of water,’ so rich in the coveted resource that some liken it to living above a sea of oil. But in Brazil’s largest and wealthiest city, a more dystopian situation is unfolding: The taps are starting to run dry. As southeast Brazil grapples with its worst drought in nearly a century, a problem worsened by polluted rivers, deforestation and population growth, the largest reservoir system serving São Paulo is near depletion. Many residents are already enduring sporadic water cutoffs, some going days without it. Officials say that drastic rationing may be needed, with water service provided only two days a week. … Some residents have begun drilling their own wells around homes and apartment buildings, or hoarding water in buckets to wash clothes or flush toilets. Public schools are prohibiting students from using water to brush their teeth, and changing their lunch menus to serve sandwiches instead of meals on plates that need to be washed. Officials are promising ambitious solutions, like new reservoirs. But they are a long way off, and many people in this vast metropolitan region of 20 million are frightened by forecasts at Brazil’s natural disaster monitoring service that São Paulo’s main reservoir system could run dry in 2015. Experts say the origins of the crisis go beyond the recent drought to include an array of interconnected factors: the city’s surging population growth in the 20th century; a chronically leaky system that spills vast amounts of water before it can reach homes; notorious pollution in the Tietê and Pinheiros rivers traversing the city (their aroma can induce nausea in passers-by); and the destruction of surrounding forests and wetlands that have historically soaked up rain and released it into reservoirs. … More than 30 percent of the city’s treated water is estimated to be lost to leaks and pilfering.”
Quickie Analysis: Massive natural resources are no match for human incompetence.