Drought stricken Sao Paulo braces as Brazil enters dry season

Sao Paulo goes into the dry season with water levels at some of its reservoirs still at critical levels with the possibility of rationing in the coming months still on the table.

JOANOPOLIS, BRAZIL (MAY 21, 2015) (REUTERS) – With the rainy season officially over, drought-stricken Sao Paulo enters the dry season without any certainty depleted reservoirs will not dry up during the May to October dry months.

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, is struggling to deal with the worst drought in 80 years which has left parts of its reservoir system at critically low levels even following the wetter months.

Water levels partially recovered over the rainy season from November through April, but the massive Cantareira System, which provides water for more than 5 million people in Sao Paulo, was at just 19.6 percent capacity on Monday (May 25).

For months, state-run water utility Sabesp has been using a network of pumps and pipelines in the Cantareira System to move previously inaccessible water from lower parts of the exhausted reservoirs into circulation.

The manager of water production at Sabesp, Marco Antonio Lopez Barros, said water preservation efforts have reinforced the system which is now able to withstand another devastatingly dry season similar to last year’s which nearly forced the city to ration water.

There are limits, however, and if this season is significantly dryer, the city could be forced to implement painful emergency measures saying the possibility of rationing cannot be taken off the table.

“We save as much (water) as we can, the integration of the systems, the migration of water from one system to another, in order to create conditions to maintain this supply. This is already happening today so that we don’t have to cause harm by rationing. Logically all of these conditions come from a prediction of climatic conditions that could be even worse (dryer) than last year, which this experiment shows we can surpass. But we just can’t control the climate. So, it depends on the climatic conditions. If it is a lot more critical than it was last year, we will logically have a plan to be able to continue to guarantee a certain amount of water for the population,” Barros said.

At times, the state has been forced to lower water pressure for up to 18 hours a day prompting many residents and businesses to stockpile water.

Though the Cantareira system remains at a critical level, some reservoirs have recovered to over 90 percent of capacity and Barros said the water system is entering the dry season on better footing than last year.

“I’d say that comparing the same time period of February to April or May this year to last year, we are in a better situation. It rained more, the system was able to replenish itself, something that did not happen last year, it was able to replenish a bit. But it wasn’t enough to bring us back to normal levels at the Cantareira System. We think that throughout this year, which is normal for (levels at) the system to start to drop from now until about October or November, which it is normal for this to happen and we hope that with this normalcy and with less water coming out that the levels will drop just a little and reach an equilibrium of water going into the system and water coming out,” Barros explained.

He also said the city can better deal with a dry season this year because residents have voluntarily implemented water-saving measures.

Predictions of dry months ahead could be further complicated by the El Niño phenomenon, which affects Pacific Ocean temperatures and has in the past led to lowered rainfall in southeast Brazil.