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By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Residents living in the largest city in South America, São Paulo, may run out of water by the end of next month, according to SABESP (São Paulo’s water utility company). SABESP registered on its website on Thursday that the main water reservoir for the city, the Cantareira system, which supplies water to more than 8.8 million inhabitants in the city of São Paulo, has less than five percent of its capacity.

cantareira system
Cantareira System has now less than five percent of its water supply, photo courtesy of SABESP.

“We have enough water in this system to meet the population’s needs until the middle of November,” said on Wednesday, Dilma Pena, president of SABESP, before a city council investigative committee hearing. Pena added that water in the city of São Paulo could end in November if no significant rainfall occurs until then.

While the city has not yet officially announced a rationing program, the shortage of water is already felt by the population. Residents from affluent neighborhoods as well as in the poorer sections of town have reported that water is being shut off during the night.

Water trucks are in high demand and have increased their rates from R$400 to up to R$1,500. Large buckets, used to store water, are currently one of the best items sold in some of the city’s hardware stores. Bathrooms at one of the city’s busiest metro stations, Brás, were closed on Wednesday due to lack of water, while some retailers have been forced to open their doors later in the day due to lack of water. According to daily Folha de S. Paulo, its reporters found at least 23 neighborhoods throughout the city without water.

Dilma Pena
Dilma Pena, president of SABESP, says water may be gone by November, photo courtesy of SABESP.

Pena’s statement to the city council was almost immediately contested by government officials. On Thursday, São Paulo Governor, Geraldo Alckmin and SABESP declared that the official’s words had been misunderstood and was not correct. “Ms. Pena’s statement was misrepresented and it confused the population,” said Alckmin.

SABESP’s press office, also released a note denying what had been stated by its president. “The company states that there are in the Cantareira (reservoir) system another 40 billion liters of the first technical reserve and 106 billion liters of the second technical reserve available for use. This water will be pumped into system if needed, guaranteeing supply until March (2015).”

The water shortage, however, is not only a problem in the city of São Paulo. In São Paulo state 13.7 million people in 68 municipalities are facing water shortages and 38 have adopted water-rationing programs. In some cities, such as Itu, 75 km from the city of São Paulo, the water-rationing program began in February.

Governor Alckmin this week announced he is studying the possibility of increasing the bonus given to consumers who reduce their water consumption even further. 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. A year ago the system had 38.2 percent of its capacity.

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