The Telegraph – by Donna Bowater
A severe drought affecting Brazil’s biggest city has led to a “water war” that could cause the water supply to collapse in parts of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Authorities in São Paulo have been battling a water crisis for months as reservoirs run dry for lack of rainfall.
Earlier this month, the state energy company in São Paulo (Cesp) asked the national operator of the electric system (ONS) to reduce the water flow at the Jaguari hydro-electric dam on the Rio Paraíba do Sul from 40,000 litres per second to 10,000 litres per second.
The measure was intended to prioritise water supply to residents in São Paulo state over energy generation.
But according to the ONS, which reduced the flow over several days to just 30,000 litres per second, a unilateral reduction would empty reserves and leave millions in 41 municipalities without water by the end of October.
In a statement, the operator said: “The ONS informed the National Water Agency and Cesp that it was not considered viable to meet the request of the agency.”
Public prosecutors in Rio have requested information about increasing the water flow of the Paraíba do Sul river, which runs through Rio state and into São Paulo.
The dispute over resources has caused conflict between the state governments in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Reports suggested the row could end up in the hands of the president, Dilma Rousseff.
“São Paulo cannot take a unilateral decision,” Luiz Fernando Pezão, Rio governor, told Estadão newspaper.
“I’m sure the federal government, through the National Water Agency, will determine what has to be done with the Paraíba do Sul river.”
Residents in Rio state have reportedly already been affected with shortages that coincided with the temporary reduction in water flow at the dam.
Local authorities said families in Barra do Piraí were finding their taps dry for 12 hours a day.
Mayor Maércio de Almeida blamed Cesp’s request for a reduction in water flow.
“This decision was nonsense, taken without consulting anyone,” he said. “I hope the National Water Agency will take some action.”
The drought in the region supplied by the Paraíba do Sul river was said to be worse than that affecting the Cantareira system, whichsupplies 8.45 million people in São Paulo and surrounding areas.
At the end of last month, federal prosecutors recommended immediate water rationing in São Paulo after a study suggested the system could dry up within 100 days.