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Weather or Not | Dammed If You Do


«Altering data: print screen shows that data from November 1 were altered on the Sabesp Web site»

Source: | GGN.

The more it rains, the more it pours. In today’s headlines, two developments, one negative and one, from the Folha de S. Paulopositive.


Basically, a state-federal partnership to close the loop formed by the Tietê and Pinheiros Rivers and the basin of the Paraíba do Sul is in the works. Like the redirection of the Brazilian São Francisco or the Chicago Big Dig — the rolling mountains of Minas Gerais are littered with antique locomotives and load stations related to the coffee and sugar wars — it brings controversy, competition and the shadow of corruption to the table, and will take a long time to complete.

The Paraíba Valley is also a major source of water for Rio de Janeiro, for example. The Folha has a little fun with such facts, such as the SP government official who says that “it will be easier for Palmeiras to win the championship than to make a deal with Sabesp.”

Numbers Games

On the other hand, as media watchers have noted, the state government and the Folha appear to have been caught churning out funky numbers for SABESP and possibly also its ADR. See the infographic above. Between the two site accesses — 812393 and 8466825 — how much time could have elapsed?

To the shock and surprise of many who follow the ongoing drought crisis, the state-owned water and sanitation agency SABESP announced, in the transparency section of its Web site, that the Alto Tietê System fell to 8.9%% of its capacity last Saturday. What was surprising was the fact that the previous day, the company had announced that the system had fallen to 6.6% of full capacity. Oddly, the first figure — 6.5% —  had been presented by the Government during the usual time for official announcements. Offering no technical explanation, SABESP proceeded to announce that now that figure stood at 8.8%,  The fact is that this shift in the numbers was noticed by a reader of ours,  Milena, from which I received the following:

«From Friday to Saturday, there was about 14 mm of rainfall — a modest figure. At this point, an isolated event like this would be absolutely insufficient to produce an increase of 2.3 points of the capacity of the  dam —  which represents some 12 billion liters of water (the total capacity of the Rio Claro dam, just to give an idea ). Between Saturday and Sunday, it apparently rained 23 mm while the level of the Alto Tietê remained at 8,9%.

In the news media, no commentary or questioning of the facts reported.  It is only fitting that an event like this drought would generate immense curiosity among part of the press, but the increase in volume was reported as though it were something commonplace: “After rains,  Alto Tietê rises, Cantareira sinks”, as G1 reported.

Today, however, as the Folha de S. Paulo reported as the top story on the UOL portal, “Rains relieve situation of Alto Tietê.”»

Screenshot from 2014-11-05 17:20:55

That is to say that they accepted, without question, that the figures  on precipitation represented considerable growth in a short span of time,   during the weekend.

It is not raining very much here — just the first tropical hellstorm of the season that ate my broadband, explosion after explosion of exploding Eletropaulo transformers …

A similarly curious lack of critical attention is notable in this report by G1, though the distortions are less extreme: G1 described the increase as being caused by rainfall and by “recapture operations.” The operations have not been explained by SABESP, as of this writing.

In any event, the newsdesk comments that the Secretary of Water Resources expected to explain the fact, saying it expected to communicate the authorization for DAEE to undertake construction work on the Biritiba-Mirim Rivers. As you already know, this was a story covered by this blog four months ago!  Seriously: For nearly a month I have commented here on the index of capture for this reservoir.

This is why the lack of quality journalism on the crisis makes me so angry. Coverage is already bureaucratic in relation to the Cantareira system, but Alto Tietê  — whose situation is much more serious — is greeted with the same media silence.


It is only by dint of this lousy journalism that it becomes possible for a state governor, without blinking, that “in the  Alto Tietê we raised it [the capacity] we are up to 9% because of a new system that was included.

A quick reading of Alckmin’s response gives us the impression that the public works in question will permit a continuing, accelerating growth of the System. After all, “we are almost up to 9%.” Another possible conclusion is that the situation will be remedied thanks to some kind of “inclusion of a new system.”

What system? How? Who? What? When?