Santiago, Chile — According to a new report, Chile’s Metropolitan Region—home to 7 million people—faces a growing water deficit that will worsen due to climate change. The new report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Adapt Chile examines six key water management challenges facing the Metropolitan Region and provides solutions to build a water system that emphasizes social, economic, and environmental integration for long-term sustainability.
Urban and rural communities in the Metropolitan Region face a future where increasing demand for potable water contrasts with decreasing water resources. Extreme heat and precipitation rates that have declined by up to 30 percent in the past two decades have resulted in a chronic water deficit for parts of the region. By 2070, the Maipo River Basin, a main water source and a critical engine of the regional economy, is projected to experience a 40 percent reduction in water flow due to loss of precipitation and glacial retreat. At the same time, Santiago is expected to see more floods every year. Floods disrupt the water supply, can cause electricity outages, spread waterborne illnesses, take lives, and cause major damage to infrastructure including roads, bridges, and electricity grids.
As the most vulnerable country to water stress in the Western Hemisphere, Chile’s Metropolitan Region needs to address a range of challenges before climate change places new and potentially critical pressure on local communities and economies. The report identifies the most urgent of these challenges as rising flood hazards, inefficient water use in urban and rural sectors, leaks and unauthorized consumption, insufficient data, conflicts over groundwater, and the administrative approach of treating the region’s main water basin around the Maipo River as three separate basins.
“Time is running out. Chile cannot wait any longer to implement solutions to fix its water management system,” said Amanda Maxwell, Director for the Latin America Project. “We looked at numerous reports about the water challenges in Chile and at successful water management practices from around the world to identify solutions that can stimulate concrete and forward-looking actions.”
“This report seeks to deliver practical and concrete solutions that are feasible not only in the Metropolitan Region, but also in Chile in general,” notes Pía Hevia, Deputy Director of Adapt Chile. “It is a purposeful document that sheds light on the options to make the most populated basin in the country more sustainable. It is about promoting urgent transformations that require the support, willpower, and implementation from all of the actors that depend on the basin.”
Already exacerbated by climate change, these pressing water issues will likely become more complex if action is not taken. The report highlights the following potential solutions as areas where civil society, policymakers, and water users can collaborate and advocate for change:
- Green Infrastructure: Expand green infrastructure like green roofs, rain gardens, and restored natural areas can improve a city’s capacity to redirect, absorb, and reuse rainwater. Green infrastructure also has multiple societal benefits, including an improvement in mental health, air purification, and natural water filtration.
- Increasing Efficiency: Decrease per capita consumption and increase water use efficiency in residential and agricultural areas is just as important as increasing water supply. Potential avenues include incentives for voluntary reduction in residential areas, water-efficient urban development, and public education campaigns to raise awareness about water use. Agricultural irrigation makes up 68 percent of total water demand in the Metropolitan Region. Focusing on soil conservation or soil stewardship would help reduce agricultural water consumption. Meanwhile, upgrading inefficient irrigation systems to micro-sprinkler systems could increase agricultural water efficiency by 30 percent.
- Reducing Water Losses: Strengthen the capacity of Chile’s Water Department and invest in new technology to tackle water loss in a more efficient way, while also creating an environment friendly to local and global innovation. To take one example, a Chilean start-up called smartDrop alerts against water main breaks and automatically closes valves in the affected sector to avoid greater losses.
- Acquiring Data: Enlist other key stakeholders could help overcome data and analysis limitations. Specialized institutes, universities, and the private sector can play an important third-party role in monitoring groundwater, identifying links between surface water and groundwater use, and studying the implications of river sectioning for downstream users.
- Organizing Groundwater Users: Establish a coalition of groundwater users in the Maipo Basin, including the Rural Potable Water Program (Agua Potable Rural, APR), small farmers, industry, and agriculture corporations. These stakeholders would be able to raise concerns more effectively, lead water management initiatives, and collaborate with one another as well as with surface water users.
- Moving Toward a More Integrated Basin: Foster greater collaboration among users to create a more resilient management of the entire Maipo Basin.
On Tuesday, July 30th, NRDC, Adapt Chile, and the Research Center for Integrated Disaster Risk Management (Centro de Investigación para la Gestión Integrada del Riesgo de Desastres, CIGIDEN) are hosting an event to discuss the report’s findings. Joined by 16 water experts from Chile and the international community, the event will be an open dialogue about possible solutions to Chile’s water management challenges. RSVP here: http://bit.ly/2JyVu9I
The complete report is available online from NRDC at: https://www.nrdc.org/resources/new-course-managing-drought-and-downpours-santiago-metropolitan-region
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.