Chief of Peruvian capital’s water authority issues water crisis alert for 2009

The chief of the Lima Water and Sewer Company or SEDAPAL has issued an amber alert and warned about possible water rationing in 2009 for the world’s second largest desert city after Cairo, Egypt.

SEDAPAL President Guillermo León predicted Monday that next year’s water shortage is almost inevitable because snow reserves are diminishing and meteorologists predict little rain. Average temperatures in the Andean Cordillera, he added, are between 2 and 3°C, which is not chilly enough to allow for snow production to replenish the snow peeks.

And if nature cannot be controlled, León said, the government has done little to prevent the crisis: Marca III – a water distribution grid that brings the precious liquid from Lake Antacoto to Lima – is the only project to have been successfully completed since 1997.

Two other projects, Pomacocha (Marca II) and Huascacocha (Marca IV), were considered priorities by SEDAPAL but left pending by the government. According to León, these grids would respectively increase water supply by 25 and 10 percent.

Recently appointed Environment Minister Antonio Brack quickly issued a his own statement to calm public fears.

“This can be solved, let us not be alarmed unnecessarily. In Lima we have water surpluses, but we need to manage it well… sewage water can be perfectly re-utilized for parks, gardens and agriculture,” Brack said.

Brack said President Alan Garcia’s administration has to get back on track with rapid development of preventive measures, such as storing water during the rainy season and recycling waste water to turn the amber alert back to green.

The problem, he added, has been that the government made plans for development but then later abandoned them. Now “we must work with a vision for the future,” he said.

A practical solution implies that waste water “be transformed into irrigation water for parks, gardens and agriculture instead of throwing it into the sea. This way there will be water for the growing populations of Lima and the Callao. Moreover, recycling it is much cheaper than producing one cubic metre of potable water,” Brack said.

Brack has pledged to recycle more than 400 million square metres of waste water that flow into beaches, rivers and lakes in and around Lima to cover the possibility of a water supply crisis.

León also blames Limeños for the probable water shortage. While the World Health Organization says daily water consumption should be limited to 50 liters per person per day, he said, Limeños consume almost 200 litres daily. And in some posh districts such as La Molina, people water their gardens with potable water.

“If people don’t change their culture and their water consumption habits, no investment project will ever suffice,” said Carlos Pagador, a representative from Peru’s National Resources Institute.

Housing, Construction and Sanitation Minster, Enrique Cornejo, agreed with Brack and said there “is no risk” of a water shortage until 2030.

“We are bringing new sources of water, improving piping, changing old pipes for new ones to make sure there are no leaks, building water treatments facilities, and these efforts, among others, have the objective of guaranteeing water supply for the coming years,” Cornejo said.

SEDEPAL’s alert, he concluded, “is to get people’s attention.”

But, according to estimates, pipe leakages are one of the main factors that cause more than 39 percent of Lima’s potable water to go to waste. Though SEDAPAL has announced a $200 million investment, the proposed budget will only allow the company to replace 29 percent of the old worn out pipes.

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