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Chile’s Peñuelas reservoir dries up as historic drought enters its 13th year

  • Chile’s Peñuelas reservoir dries up as historic drought enters its 13th year
    A false-color image of the Peñuelas reservoir in 2016 (left) and 2022 (right). COPERNICUS / SENTINEL 2

The Peñuelas reservoir in central Chile, which once used to be the main water source for Valparaiso, a metropolitan area with nearly 1 million residents, is almost dry, reports Reuters.

Chile is now into the 13th year of a historical drought, with very low levels of rainfall and high temperatures that melt away the snow pack in the Andes, once an important water reserve.

The ongoing drought has affected the production of the largest copper mining company in the world, and led to competition between water uses such as lithium and farming. Capital city Santiago, home to nearly 6 million people, has announced plans to ration water for the first time in history. “It's important for citizens to understand that climate change is here to stay. It's not just global, it's local", said governor Claudio Orrego.

The long-standing drought, unprecedented in duration and intensity, is blamed on a global shift in climate patterns. Naturally occurring sea warming off the Chilean coast has intensified as global temperatures increase, blocking storms from the Pacific that used to bring precipitation in the winter months. On the other hand, ozone depletion and greenhouse gases in the Antarctic also draw storms away from Chile. Snow in the Andes is not getting replenished, with less meltwater to feed rivers and aquifers. Thin layers of snow melt fast or turn directly into vapour.

Projections by scientists from the University of Chile say the nation will have 30% less water over the next 30 years, so what is currently a drought may become the new normal.

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