By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The governor of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, reiterated this past weekend plans of applying a fine to those using too much water, requesting an increase of up to thirty percent starting May 1st. If the increase is approved by Sao Paulo’s water regulating agency (Arsesp) the effect of the measure would already show up on consumers’ June water bills.
The Cantareira water system supplies water to more than 8.8 million inhabitants in the city of São Paulo. Yet the reservoir to South America’s largest metropolis is at its lowest level since measurements began to be recorded, in 1974.
The reservoir, according to SABESP (São Paulo’s water utility agency), was at 10.9 percent of its capacity on Tuesday morning. A year ago the volume of water registered in the system surpassed the sixty percent level.
In February, the governor announced the state would be giving a thirty percent bonus to those who were able to decrease their water usage by twenty percent. By the end of March, government officials said that more than 76 percent of consumers were able to decrease water consumption in the city, although only 37 percent were able to reduce it by twenty percent or more to obtain the bonus.
With no substantial rainfall, however, water supply in the Cantareira system continues to decrease. In late March, with options decreasing rapidly, the São Paulo government caused some tension with its neighbor state, Rio de Janeiro, by asking the federal government for permission to use some of the water from the Paraiba do Sul River.
The river’s water is federally controlled and traditionally supplies water to Rio de Janeiro. Rio’s then-governor Sergio Cabral took to Twitter to criticize the project, which was swiftly put on the back burner.
The increase in customers’ water bills, however, may be illegal, says IDEC (Consumer Protection Institute). “We understand that for the state to apply such increase it will have to first officially declare it is starting a rationing program for the city,” says Carlos Thadeu de Oliveira, IDEC’s technical manager. “It is against the law and the Consumer Defense Code to increase public utilities without a just cause,” he adds.
Government officials, however, have repeatedly stated that rationing is not likely to occur. When questioned by The Rio Times about the fines, São Paulo’s Department of Water Resources stressed that the increase would not be a “fine but a contingency tariff for those consumers which register water consumption above their 2013 average.”
Oliveira, however, says that it does not matter what the government wants to call the increase, the rationing decree must first be announced. He believes, “they just don’t want to announce a rationing program during an election year.”
With the dry season just around the corner, the city of São Paulo may soon face the same problems other municipalities in the São Paulo metropolitan region are struggling with. Guarulhos, home to São Paulo’s International Airport, but not supplied by the Cantareira system, has already installed a rationing system, affecting more than 800,000 people. All of this just in time for the opening game of the World Cup in São Paulo, on June 12th.