Thursday, February 13, 2014

So why are we NOT panicking? - São Paulo

Part of the Cantareira system: photo credit globo
As you know, my favorite section of the Folha de São Paulo newspaper is Cotidiano, or Metropolitan or Murder & Mayhem. It's daily life in the big city. The first few pages today were about the videographer killed in the protests in Rio and the capture of his murderer. Then stories related to the violence in the protests, and an article hidden on page C4 about Brazil being number one in journalist deaths in the hemisphere. Yes, we passed Mexico. 

Then on page 5, just above the fold is an article with not-huge letters saying "Sistema Cantareira opera com volume abaixo do limite crítico" which I translate as "The Cantareira water system is operating at limit that is beyond critical."  The Cantareira system is the São Paulo  water system. And there is a chart showing that basically we are out of water in São Paulo. The reservoir system is at 22% full level (I think I might say 78% empty). 

If you are not a Brazil resident, let me tell you that we are in one of the worst drought situations I've ever encountered in any country. It has essentially not rained for 40 days. Since New Year's. Ah, and this is the rainy season. Or not.

Image credit: Folha de São Paulo, February 13, 2014, Cotidiano C5

This article is full of yummies. Like 17% of the water in the Cantareira system is "reserved" exclusively for metropolitan São Paulo. So, the interior of this giant state will be facing rationing before we will. With only 22% of the reservoir full, only 4.6% is going to to the areas of Campinas and Piracicaba. 

Now the bottom part of the image is completely crazy. A percentage of the reservoir is considered "volume morto" or dead volume. It seems to be around 4%, but I didn't find that exact value in the article. Dead volume is the amount of water that may be in the reservoir but it won't find its way into our water faucets. Why? Because water from the reservoirs runs mostly downhill (there is one place where it gets pumped up top of the mountains) by gravity and through tunnels. And if the water is too shallow to flow through the tunnel? No water. We are pretty close to this, folks. This chart was done on numbers from 31 January. It is today 13 February and the levels are estimated at 19.1% of capacity. You do the math. We are in deep doo-doo.

What amazes me is that the average person has no clue of the doo-doo we are in. In my neighborhood, there are still people washing their sidewalks with water while having a chat with the housekeeper next door. There are still people washing their cars in their driveways. It's true--I saw both events yesterday on my 5 kilometer walk home from school. I am about to become the ugly foreigner (who pays her water bill and her taxes here, by the way) who tells them to cut the crap. Either they don't get it, or they don't think the rules apply to them. Wait, oh, I forgot, there are no rules yet. What are we waiting for? The faucets to drip instead of flow? My car is brown. It will remain brown until we get some rain. When we get the rain, I will park it outside and wash it down, one raindrop at a time.

I really don't understand why we are so relaxed about the water shortage. Sabesp, the water utility, is giving discounts for those who economize but I'm guessing only penalties will work. If I were Mayor Haddad, (pronounced "AH-dah-GEE") I might be making my plans. And executing them NOW. But if history repeats, São Paulo city (Haddad) is pointing the finger at São Paulo state (Alckmin, different political party) and vice versa and we are getting nowhere. Just a guess, haven't seen what the mayor is saying.

Now, who says that Folha de São Paulo doesn't have a sense of humor? Below the fold is a picture of a pretty freshman of the USP engineering school. She is covered in paint and standing in mud. She is being squirted by a high-pressure hose. 

What is wrong with this juxtaposition? I'll tell you what. The elite of this country (in education not money in this case) do not think that rules apply to them. Oh, we have a drought? Squirting each other with thousands of gallons of water is appropriate, right? All is fair in the moment of hazing the newcomers.

Folha, I got your message. I wonder how many others did. Ah, and at the bottom of the photo with the title "Desperdício" or "waste", there is another phrase that made me laugh: "to economize, this year the university did not furnish the water." Oh goodie, the students provided their own. Well, why not? University is free at USP-Poli, you have money to spend on water trucks. During a drought. 

Are these students the ones who will be engineering a new water system for São Paulo metro? I sure hope so. Get to work, oh painted ones.


  1. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing this. I will spread the word.

  2. We just had a nice, solid, soaking rain here in Uberlândia. Only the third since I arrived on December 27, but still doing better than São Paulo. No word of rationing here yet. Hope we can avoid it.

    1. It just started thundering here! Hope it's not tricking us...

  3. So that's why we had a notice posted in our elevator! It wasn't so much a notice of water shortage, but more of a list of excuses regarding why our condominio needs to water the plants twice a day. It also laid blame on all the children who live here and eat ice cream all day long. It seems they drip their melted ice cream, and throw their popsicle wrappers all over the place, which then forces the gardners to have to hose down the whole place multiple times a day. There was no mention of a shortage, or any talk about what they're doing to cut back. Hmm.

    1. Well, okay all the ice cream eating is an issue, but probably could be resolved with a damp cloth not a hose! If you have a chance to take a picture of that notice, I would love to see it!