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Uruguay announces end of water emergency in Montevideo

  • Uruguay announces end of water emergency in Montevideo

The government of Uruguay announced last week the end of the water emergency in the capital and its nearby regions, reports Earlier this year an unprecedented drought pushed the country's water supply to a critical point. The metropolitan area of Montevideo, home to more than half of the country’s population, experienced the most significant water resource deficit since records have been kept, more than 70 years ago.

Uruguay is a high-income country in Latin America whose water resources have been historically abundant, but for some years experts had noted the vulnerability of the water supply to the metropolitan area which depended on a single reservoir, Paso Severino. The reservoir was at less than 10 per cent of total capacity last June.

To address the water shortage, the state-owned water company, OSE, began blending brackish water from the Rio de la Plata estuary into the drinking water supply starting in April. Residents, accustomed to consuming high-quality tap water, transitioned to relying heavily on bottled water. The government raised the acceptable levels of sodium and chloride in drinking water, which was considered safe for general public consumption. However, pregnant women and individuals with certain illnesses were advised to avoid drinking it, and the government subsidized the cost of bottled water for the vulnerable population. Two liters of mineral water were provided per day to over 500,000 individuals. Additionally, bottled water was exempted from taxes.

A crucial project – the San José-Belastiquí water transfer – was defined and executed in record time to address the security of the drinking water supply, according to OSE. This project began as soon as the water levels of the San José River allowed and was completed in just one month. It has the capacity to provide 200,000 cubic meters of water to the metropolitan area's supply, which is a third of the typical daily consumption. On August 10, water pumping from Paso Valdez, in San José, to the Belastiquí dam, in Canelones, began. The work involved the construction of 13.5 km transfer pipeline connecting the intake and pumping from the San José River to Paso Belastiquí, on the Santa Lucía River. Approximately $20 million was invested in the works.

In parallel, recent rainfall has replenished the Paso Severino reservoir to over half of its total capacity of 67 million cubic meters as of August 22. Sodium and chloride levels in the water supply have returned to within legally permissible limits, and President Luis Lacalle Pou told reporters that both the quality and availability of water were very good. The president estimated that spending related to the water emergency was nearly $70 million.

The OSE has also announced that work on the Arazatí project, approved prior to the water emergency, will commence in the coming months. This project was awarded on August 23rd and is the largest solution to the public drinking water supply issue and the security of the metropolitan system. It entails the construction of drinking water treatment facilities and an investment of $200 million, which could reach $500 million when OSE approves the sanitation plan for 60 localities. It is the largest investment in the last 150 years in this area.

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