A New Course: Managing Drought and Downpours in the Santiago Metropolitan Region

July 26, 2019

Authored with Andrea E. Becerra of NRDC, and Jordan Harris and Pía Hevia from Adapt Chile

The Aculeo Lagoon is an ecological reserve located southeast of Santiago in the Maipo Baisin. What was once an expansive and pristine lagoon drawing tourists escaping the bustling metropolis to camp and swim in the still, clear water is now a sea of mud.

Jonas Valdivieso Bravo

In the past decade, climate change has brought record-breaking heat, flooding, drought, and forest fires to central Chile. And the problems are only getting worse—especially when it comes to water. Extreme heat coupled with declining precipitation rates in the past two decades have resulted in a chronic water deficit in the Metropolitan Region (MR). By 2070, the Maipo River Basin, a critical engine of the MR’s regional economy, is expected to experience a 40 percent reduction in water flow due to loss of precipitation and glacial retreat. Even as the region grapples with a water-scarce future, Santiago is expected to see more floods every year, which can compromise water quality and supply, damage infrastructure, and increase health risks.

Already exacerbated by climate change, these pressing water issues will likely become more complex when paired with population growth and urbanization. Fortunately, there are solutions. And solving these problems also presents real opportunities for Chile to advance toward its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) targets that emphasize the role of water as a social, economic, and environmental good. This report builds on the valuable research done by other organizations and draws on international successes to provide short- to medium-term solutions to the water management problems in Chile’s MR.