Santiago de Chile has had to adapt to water scarcity

Posted on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 at 2:49 pm

A decade of drought has authorities in Santiago de Chile considering how best to avoid water rationing: savings, planting native plants and plans for restrictions anticipate continued scarcity.

Central Chile has been subject to continuous drought for more than a decade. A precipitation deficit of 71% in 2021 has made the southern winter in this region the driest in the 21st century (43% nationwide), according to the Chilean Meteorological Directorate.

The forecast also portends a new winter approaching with light rain around the capital, as a result of climate change.

Without enough rain, the major reservoirs, lakes and rivers that supply Santiago’s 7.1 million residents are at critical levels and authorities are preparing for a last resort: rationing.

“We can’t make the rain fall. It’s not up to us, but we can prepare for a difficult situation. We’ve had twelve years of drought, so there’s a real chance we’ll have to deal with the rationing,” Santiago Governor Claudio Origo announced last week. Three-level alert protocol.

The first two factors relate to reductions in non-essential uses and a reduction in pressure in faucets. The last level, “Red Alert”, includes a strict “rotation” rationing by city sectors for a maximum of 24 hours.

Although Santiago’s population has tripled in 50 years, domestic use accounts for only about 10% of the water consumed in Chile, agriculture accounts for 70% and industry 20%.

– original species –

Every day, agronomist Pablo Lacale anxiously notes the reduced flow of the Mapocho River, which crosses Santiago from east to west for about thirty kilometers. Last year, it fell by 57%, according to official figures.

“For us, that’s a trend. It’s like reading the newspaper in the morning, we have an idea of ​​what’s going to happen during the day” to water needs, explains Mr. Lacalle, Santiago Metropolitan Park’s Chief Water Resources Officer (Barquimette).

Covering an area of ​​737 hectares, this park is located on San Cristobal Hill, one of the highest hills in Santiago, which has polled more than six million visitors each year.

Its vast lawns are irrigated with water from the Mapocho River, which is also the main sprinkler for many private gardens in the affluent neighborhoods of eastern Santiago.

“We have to plan the capacity to water the garden, because we have a water deficit of 87% compared to previous years,” explains Mr. Lacalle.

Strategies have already been implemented to reduce the park’s water needs and “the exotic forest has been replaced by a native forest,” as is the case on the North Slope where 100,000 trees were planted in three years, explains Parkwimet’s director, Eduardo Villalobos.

These ideas, he says, made it possible to reduce the risks of “drought and fire”.

Everywhere in the city, initiatives are being launched to save water, this asset that has become so precious.

Architect Joaquin Cerda launched the “Local Pavements” project to replace the grass that covered about 150 square meters of sidewalks with 25 different native plants in the residential area of ​​Pedro de Valdivia Norte.

“These species have become accustomed to the Mediterranean climate in Santiago for long periods of drought,” he told AFP.

“We water once a week for half an hour and use the drip system,” he says, noting that “water consumption is down to less than a tenth of what it was before.”

Water is also at the center of ongoing discussions over the drafting of Chile’s new constitution, which will be submitted for approval in September by referendum.

If water is a national public good whose concession is entrusted to the private sector, members of the Constituent Assembly on Monday approved an article stating that “it is an inalienable public interest” to be managed on a participatory, supportive and equitable basis.

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