Rethinking the way we manage water

150606_wasragBy Megan Ferringer, Rotary staff

One of the world’s largest cities, São Paulo is located in a region that averages 145 centimeters (57.3 inches) of precipitation each year. That’s 64 more centimeters (25 more inches) than Seattle gets. The country is also home to roughly 12 percent of the world’s fresh water. But since 2014, the city has been gripped by its worst drought in 80 years, leaving millions of residents in the country’s most populated metropolis without reliable running water.

At the World Water Summit on 4 June, Carlos Rossin, director of sustainability solutions for PricewaterhouseCoopers, provided an update on the city’s drought and water resources issues.

“Coming from a country filled with rainforests, we naturally have an abundance of water. To see a water shortage like this, it’s quite drastic,” said Rossin, a lifelong resident of São Paulo. “Last year, we had to bring tanks of water to apartments that had no water. People couldn’t even take showers. My generation has not experienced this, and the generation before that has not experienced this.”

According to Rossin, the drought is the result of three consecutive years of record low rainfall, which the city relies on to replenish its reservoirs. Deforestation and a growing population have also contributed to the historic drought. Collectively, the city’s six primary reservoir systems are 27.1 percent full, compared with 40 percent full at this time last year — a difference that amounts to 274 billion liters of water. The Cantareira reservoir system, the city’s most important water storage facility, is at 20 percent of capacity as the region enters its annual dry season. Before the drought, Cantareira served nearly half of the city’s 20 million people. It currently supplies water to only 5 million people.

“The scary thing is that we just left the summer, our rainy season. We’re now entering the dry season with a record low percentage of stored water,” said Rossin. “We will definitely run out. We can only hope that we can learn to manage what we have to last until February when the rainy season begins again. I don’t know if we’re going to make it work. That’s how severe it is.”

Rossin explained that two key initiatives are currently in place to alleviate the effects of the drought. The city is working to implement an economic plan for residential water use. Those who can reduce their monthly water use by 20 percent earn a discount, while residents who use more than their water allotment pay a fine. According to Rossin, São Paulo is also tapping into other water systems, tributaries, and rivers to increase the stability of the region’s water system.

“What I think will really make a difference is education,” Rossin said. “We’re going to have to rethink the way we manage water, and I think that starts with educating our kids.”

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