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A Drought By Any Other Name | DCM

Screenshot from 2015-02-06 13:21:34

Source: Diário do Centro do Mundo

Topic: São Paulo state water autority (Sabesp)

Last week, Governor Alckmin (PSDB) said his administration had decided not to “zero out the system,” arguing that he had not yet decided on the implantation of a rotation scheme for the São Paulo metro area. According to state officials, however, the region has faced an alternating service — rodízio, in Portuguese — since August 2014.

Unaware that he was talking with a reporter, a Sabesp worker confirmed that the operation consisted in shutting off the supply, every day at the same hour. “Pressure returns at 4:00 a.m.”

This week, we accompanied four technical operations in these different zones of São Paulo. In two of these, technicians said, a complete blockage of water was in effect and pressure would not return for several hours — while in a third area, the water would be turned on after 12 hours without water from the tap. In the third case, the disconnection was realized in a reservoir around 1:00 p.m. and lasted until 4:00 a.m.


This measure is typical of a rationing scheme and can result in a total suspension of water supply in a given neighborhood, including those located below the lowest level of the reservoir itself and which, in theory, should not experience a shortage, explains João (not his real name). The schedule for cutting off service, other workers say, normally follow a list of pressure reduction available to the public on its Web site.

In the video, another work says it is false to attribute the lack of water to the reduction of pressure in the pipelines.  “The government says it is only lowering the pressure. But haven’t you found yourself without water? The time you spend without water is the same time we are blocking everything,” he said, recalling a conversation he had with a local resident. “People are beginning to suspect what we are up to.”

A third Sabesp worker says that Sabesp is conducting a kind of rotation, alternating water supply between different neighborhoods by opening and closing the valves in the street. The same occurs at the reservoirs, with outages that affect several adjacent neighborhoods at a time.

“The VRPs [Pressure Reduction Valves] are used to contain a specific area. So why do all the sectors present a shortage of water? They are shutting off the outlets of the reservoirs,” explains the technician Marcelo (not his real name), who has 20 years of experience at Sabesp.

A fourth Sabesp employee, who also did not know he was speaking to a reporter, admitted that the operations realized have left entire neighborhoods without water – and not just one property or another.

“There is no rotation scheme”

Sabesp refused to furnish a list of cuts, like those denounced by its employees, that have already been realized or are scheduled to be made. To date, the company would admit only that it had intensified the program to reduce pressure in the pipes, which would lead to a water shortage for “much less than 1%” of the population “consisting mostly of those who live on elevated ground or lack a cistern [or other storage device].”

“Sabesp clarifies that there is no rotation or rationing scheme in force in São Paulo. What is underway is an operation to reduce water loss in the pipes,” the company said in a note. “The Company recommends that its clients install water storage equipment on their premisses capable of supplying their needs for at least 24 hours, which will attenuate the effects of pressure reduction.”

A Datafolha poll from October 2014, however, indicated that 60% of city residents had reported going  without water at some point in the past 30 days.  (In June, this figure was 35%). “At 11:00 a.m. it is cutting off, for three months now,” said security guard Wagner Silva 40, after his daughter demonstrated the dry faucet in the entrance to the house. “It won’t come back on until tomorrow”.

The timing is the same pointed to by José Carlos Silva, who lives a few blocks down the street.  “I September or thereabouts, a water shortage began. It started at 3:00 p.m. and now is coming back on earlier,” he said.

Governor Geraldo Alckmin (PSDB) said on January 30 that his administration had decided not to realize cut-offs and that it was betting on the reduction in water pressure, a measure responsible for 52% of the savings of water from the key Cantareira System between 2013 and the first quarter of 2015.

“We opted for the pressure valve because using this method you do not zero out the system, and by not zeroing it out, you diminish the risk of contamination, because you keep the system pressurized,” said the Toucan.

The principal function of the VPRs is to decrease losses from leaks, according to an article produced by an Sabesp official and published in an in-house magazine. Although the equipment winds up minimizing the outflow consumed by the end user, this is not its purpose, according to a study by a USP hydraulic engineering candidate.

“In fact, the reduction of pressure in the pipelines will affect points of consumption directly linked to the distribution network, reducing outflow. On the other hand, the points of consumption connected to cisterns will not suffer any impact from the reduction in consumption,” according to the work of Renato Gonçalves da Motta (based on Farley & Trow, 2003).

Sabesp reports that some 1,500 [??] are installed in the São Paulo metro area.

Contacted, the Governor refused comment.

Romania, bread rationing card, 1989. Source: Wikipedia

Romania, bread rationing card, 1989. Source: Wikipedia