Chile water crisis should serve as a warning

In an article called “‘Consequences will be dire’: Chile’s water crisis is reaching breaking point” by John Bartlett as reported in The Guardian, a long-lasting drought and water misuse have led to an alarming problem. The sad truth is the water crisis in Chile is not an isolated event. The following select paragraphs tell an important story. The full article can be linked to below.

Unprecedented drought makes water a national security issue as more than half of Chile’s 19 million population lived in area with ‘severe water scarcity’ by end of 2021.

From the Atacama Desert to Patagonia, a 13-year megadrought is straining Chile’s freshwater resources to breaking point.

By the end of 2021, the fourth driest year on record, more than half of Chile’s 19 million population lived in an area suffering from ‘severe water scarcity’, and in April an unprecedented water rationing plan was announced for the capital, Santiago.

In hundreds of rural communities in the centre and north of the country, Chileans are forced to rely on emergency tankers to deliver drinking water.

Ecuadorian natives clash with the police 30km from Quito in 2010 in protest of a proposed water privatisation measure.

‘Water has become a national security issue – it’s that serious,’ said Pablo García-Chevesich, a Chilean hydrologist working at the University of Arizona. ‘It’s the biggest problem facing the country economically, socially and environmentally. If we don’t solve this, then water will be the cause of the next uprising.’……

‘I used to supply all of the markets and communities in the area,’ said Alfonso Ortíz, 73, a farmer who once employed several workers to grow watermelons, pumpkins, corn and oranges using water from the lagoon.

‘Agriculture here is dead. There’s nothing left,’ he said.

Chile’s economy, South America’s largest by per-capita GDP, is built on water-intensive, extractivist industries principally mining, forestry and agriculture.

But its growth has come at a price.

Supported by the private rights system, about 59% of the country’s water resources are dedicated to forestry, despite it making up just 3% of Chile’s GDP.

Another 37% is destined for the agricultural sector, meaning only 2% of Chile’s water is set aside for human consumption.”

Re-read that last sentence. “2% of Chile’s water is set for human consumption.” While this is an extreme example it is not isolated. Going on for several years now, the number one long term crisis facing us as surveyed by the World Economic Forum is the global water crisis. Climate change impact was second as it actually makes the first problem worse.

For those that think it cannot happen here, farmers in the plains of the US are worried about water. There is a great book called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn that shares these concerns. There is one town in Texas that is now dry because of fracking and drought. Other water supplies are getting more dear and fights over river and reservoir access have been going on. The Biscayne aquifer that provides water to Miami is being encroached on by rising sea levels coming through the porous limestone. And, that is before the issue of lead pipes comes into the equation.

What troubles me greatly is the lack of public debate over this concern. Cape Town, South Africa was so bad off it had a countdown to no water. It survived, but just barely. Yet, not a peep was discussed here. We are to busy talking about contrived and exaggerated issues to deal with real crises. One would think not having water to drink or irrigate crops would be a concern. One would think that climate change causing water reservoirs to dry up faster and cause longer droughts and forest fires would be a concern.

Let me leave you with this thought. I heard a spokesperson from one of the largest US utilities speak on climate change impact. This utility had a long-range report that said two very disturbing things. First, they have increased their model for expected evaporation of reservoir water due to climate change by 11%. If the water level is too low, it cannot be converted into steam to turn the turbines to create power. So, they cut the water flow to people to make up for it, as they manage the river.

Second, these long-range projections noted the river will not be able to support the water needs of the metropolitan population in about fifty years unless something is done. This troubling projection has gotten very little coverage in our newspapers or TV news. This is more concerning to me than BS like critical race theory or replacement theory which are the contrived and exaggerated issues of the day.

Steven Solomon, author of “Water” created a term that has been used by at least one utility executive. “Water is the new oil.” If that does not scare you, note oil rich Saudi Arabia said it was OK to pray with sand rather than water. Why? They said Allah gave them a lot of oil, but little water.

16 thoughts on “Chile water crisis should serve as a warning

  1. Before a problem can be effectively addressed, one needs to correctly identify the problem. Lack of rain is not the problem because the average amount in the US has risen. Yet, at the same time, we have massive and historical drought. So it’s where and how the rain occurs (or doesn’t) that determines what infrastructure is needed to capture, control, and redistribute this vital resource where it falls too much to mitigate where it doesn’t fall enough. That’s the real debate and one not occurring when all the air is taken up by BS “contrived and exaggerated” discussions about how water is used.

    • Thanks for your comment. True, it is not a one size fits all. The climate change scientists note drought areas will get drier, forest fires will get more severe, weather systems are larger and move more slowly, etc. A big concern with hurricanes is the flooding, eg, not just the wind. We need to discuss water management in long term planning. Thanks again.

      • Yes, we do need to take water management very seriously. We’re not. And it’s not a conversation I’m hearing anywhere from authorities. This is not good. Instead, we hear all about ‘saving’ water. That’s not a solution: that’s a temporary coping mechanism.

        Also, and as a side note, I thought you might find this comparison interesting, especially when farmland and water is of such importance:

        An acre of high-yield corn in the US midwest in one year can be converted into 500 gallons of ethanol on average. If a vehicle could run on 100% ethanol, it would travel 8,750 miles on 500 gallons. (Ethanol has 30% less energy than gasoline.)

        An acre of solar panels produces an average 350 megawatt hours (MWh) in one year. That’s enough electricity to be able to drive a Tesla Model 3 some 1,400,000 miles. That’s 160 times more productive and requires zero water for yearly operation. Iowa, for example, uses 8 million acres to grow corn dedicated to ethanol. We could produce the same energy with solar on .05 of this land and open up 7.95 million acres for food.

      • Good examples. And, wind energy need not disrupt ranch or farm land. Cattle ranchers lease their land in Texas at $5k per annum for each windmill. One rancher has eleven for annual income of $55k and the cattle just graze around the bases.

  2. I share you concerns about global water crisis on the horizon. Here in the west, most of us are acutely aware of what years upon years of drought do to the land, river systems, flora and fauna, and the carrying capacity of the land.

    Also, in most of the west, rain is and always has been a negligible resource. We depend upon snowpack, which as it melts, fills river systems, lakes, reservoirs, and aquifers. When the snowpack doesn’t arrive, or if it arrives too late or early heat waves melt it off too fast to capture and use, the entire landscape suffers. We rely on snowpack water (not rain) for irrigation to grow crops, and power to keep irrigation sprinklers, air conditioners, and lights operating.

    And yet, even with the effects of drought right under our noses, too many people squander water on huge lawns and golf courses with pristine green grass that has no agricultural use and doesn’t even satisfy the pollinators who are also suffering from climate change.

    • Linda, your perspective and experience are always appreciated. If you have not read this book “Rancher Farmer Fisherman” it focuses on these three plus two more industries – shrimping and riverboat transport. The large premise is environmentalists and these professions working together to preserve the environment while making a living. When they are at odds, nothing good happens or they are at stalemate. Water is a dear resource and must be treated with care and diligence. For example, not all crops should be grown everywhere – there is a reason alfalfa and wheat are grown in the Midwest. Keith

  3. Scary stuff! We definitely take water for granted here! Just turn on the faucet and voila! Just go to the grocery store or any vending machine and buy bottled water. We keep thinking that things will always stay the same, but like your post says, if we don’t change things, we are in danger!

  4. 23 year ‘drought’ in the southwest. So far. This is not news nor an anomaly; it is the new ‘normal’. And the new normal is what’s called ‘aridification’. Lakes Mead and Powell – and the hydro they produce – are not sustainable (recharge would now take over a decade of record rains and snow to get back to previous ‘norms’).

    So here’s the thing: remember, today is the coolest and wettest it is ever going to be and not unusually hot and dry. This is why understanding climate change and what it means for local weather patterns is a mind shift away from conservation (yes, the rate of disappearing water can be varied… but it’s going away… which is the larger is the point) and towards adaptation. This is the conversation – and planning – that is MIA: how do we fundamentally adapt?

  5. The situation in The Horn of Africa (Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia) is equally severe. A drought which is entering its third year and affecting some 15 million people. This seems to be caused by the El Nino phenomenon. One of several causes around the globe.
    Sobering times which governments and groups should be addressing and not denying.

      • Quite so Keith. And the warnings have been there for some time, both in the areas of climate change and water management.
        It is not an endless bounty.
        Aside from those in more hopeless schools of thought of fundamentalism and conspiracy folk would do well to scan the planetological history of this planet to sample the massive, remorseless forces at work. A meditation on those would teach us all, it is not ‘our’ planet; we simply live on it, and if by our profligacy we do not pay heed, we will become another failed species.

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