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Uruguay copes with water scarcity by tapping into high salinity waters

  • Uruguay copes with water scarcity by tapping into high salinity waters
  • Water shortages have led Uruguay’s national water authority Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE) to increase the drinking water supply by adding high salinity waters.
  • Although considered safe for the general public, vulnerable residents in the Montevideo metropolitan area are advised to consume bottled water.

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Uruguay is facing severe water scarcity due to high temperatures and dry conditions. Despite recent rains, water levels at the Paso Severino reservoir, which supplies water to more than half of the country’s 3.4 million people, are critically low. To try to address the shortages, the national water authority Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE) has been authorised to exceed the legal thresholds for sodium and chloride in drinking water, adding to the supply water from the Río de la Plata estuary, informs The Washington Post.

The whole Southern Cone region of South America is experiencing historically hot and dry conditions, with an impact on agricultural crops and economies, as the effects of climate change are causing the region to warm at a faster rate than the rest of the world.

The extreme measure affects the salinity of the water supplied to the metropolitan area of the capital Montevideo. It comes after the OSE banned the use of drinking water for outdoor uses (watering, vehicle washing, swimming pools, etc.) last February in the capital and other areas.

While tap water contains high levels of sodium and chloride, giving it a distinct salty taste and reaching 50 per cent more than Uruguay’s previously authorised limit, it is considered safe for the general public. Individuals with hypertension, kidney diseases, or those on salt-restricted diets are advised to take precautions and consider consuming bottled water.

The water shortage has had a profound impact on the lives of locals: many have reduced their water consumption. Meanwhile, opposition politicians are blaming President Luis Lacalle Pou for the mismanagement of the water crisis. The government has responded to the crisis by suspending taxes on imported bottled water and providing subsidies for vulnerable residents to purchase bottled water.

Residents in the metropolitan area that are considered at risk – suffering from chronic illness, infants, and pregnant women ­– are provided with "prescriptions" for bottled water, to pay for the cost of 2 litres of water per day. Because of the high demand for bottled water, some stores are limiting purchases to 12 litres a day to ensure availability for everyone. In addition, last week the OSE started to deliver drinking water in tanker trucks to hospitals and healthcare centres. The reserves at the Paso Severino reservoir were 4.6 hm3 out of a total of 67 hm3 last week, less than 10 per cent, and the OSE is closely monitoring the water situation. 

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