July 12, 2019

A new model of Water Management for Chile

This endeavor launched the publication "Water Transition: the future of water in Chile" that proposes, in an unprecedented way, a new water management model and presents a portfolio of over 200 measures, actions, and solutions to reduce the Water Gap in Chile.

This initiative is the result of an unprecedented cross-sectional dialogue process involving 55 public, private, NGOs, and academic institutions.

A new model for water management in Chile is the unprecedented proposal that Water Scenarios 2030 makes through the publication “Water Transition: The Future of Water in Chile” which was launched today, a day marked by the reflection of the productive sectors around the institutionality and the State policy that the country requires to give sustainability and security to the resource.

Due to its geographical location and climatic conditions, Chile is one of the most affected countries worldwide by climate change, given it meets seven of the nine criteria of vulnerability enunciated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In terms of water, it is within the 30 countries at a global level with greatest water stress.

“Water Transition: The Future of Water in Chile” is the result of a cross-sectional dialogue process of over 55 public, private, NGOs and academic entities, coordinated by Fundación Chile, Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano, and Fundación Avina, which from 2016 are working on the construction of possible scenarios and roadmaps with concrete, effective measures, actions and solutions to help mobilize the public and private sectors to make timely decisions for the safety and sustainability of the resource.

The event counted with the presence of the Executive Secretary of the National Irrigation Commission, Federico Errázuriz; the Superintendent of Sanitary Services, Jorge Rivas; the Adviser for the Ministry of Public Works, Mónica Ríos; the Representative in Chile of the Inter-American Development Bank, Yolanda Martínez; the president of the National Agriculture Society, Ricardo Ariztía; the executive president of the National Association of Health Services Companies, Jessica López; the Development Manager of the National Mining Society, María Cristina Betancour; Fundación Chile’s  Sustainability and Businesses VP, Andrés Pesce; Fundación Chile’s CEO FCH, Marcos Kulka; Ben Walton, co-founder of ZomaLab; the Program Director of Fundación Avina, Hernán Blanco; the Executive Director of Chile Sustentable, Sara Larraín, and the Representative in Chile of Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano, Diego Luna.

The Businesses and Sustainability VP at Fundación Chile, Andrés Pesce, stated that “We are convinced that there is a need in the country to generate circular development trajectories that are decoupled from the use of resources and that have a low impact on the environment; that is, that their growth is sustainable. The climate change crisis clearly expresses itself in the water. Today we invite you to work together with a vision of systems and a portfolio of solutions, all of which are interconnected and specific to each territory”.

For her part, Yolanda Martínez, IDB representative in Chile, emphasized the scope of the challenge, “70% represents the surface of the planet covered by water, 2.5% corresponds to fresh water and 0.62% to water available for human, agricultural, and industrial consumption. By 2050 we will be more than 9 billion inhabitants”.

In the same line, Óscar Cristi, General Director of Water for the Chilean Ministry of Public Works, emphasized that “By 2050, the projection of rural potable water deficit in the Metropolitan Region will reach 83% and at least 70 areas of current restriction will become areas of prohibition.” He also added that “Today there are challenges that we must address, such as, the available data -not always reliable and consistent-, and for this, we work enhancing the hydrometry and modeling of aquifers to evaluate their effective status”.

Four pillars of action

The model proposed by EH2030 consists in four lines of action defined to achieve the Water Transition. In the first place, the management and institutionality of water, as the fundamental gear that mobilizes and enables solutions in the short, medium, and long terms. Second, it aims to protect and conserve water ecosystems, given that they are the fundamental basis for life, providers of multiple ecosystem services, and any possible development. The third line highlights the efficiency and strategic use of the resource, which aims to manage water demand responsibly. It is estimated that the efficient use by productive sectors with high consumption could considerably reduce the current gap. Likewise, it extends an open invitation to advance in the prioritization of the use of the resource, where the human right to water is guaranteed. The last line is the migration and incorporation of new water sources, where the intensive users of the resource must be decoupled from the natural water sources in the basin, leaving it available for other uses connected to the conservation and maintenance of vital processes.

Ulrike Broschek, leader of Water Scenarios 2030, said that “In order to move towards a sustainable water scenario in the country, we need leadership at a national level, active work in the territory, and the commitment of all public, private, and citizens”.

She stressed that this is imperative, given the characteristics of current institutions, which are marked by excessive fragmentation. “Currently there are more than 40 state agencies related to water management and we do not have water policies, capacities, or resources to confront the current situation and provide water security in the future. If we continue on the same course, in the future water will be a limitation for the development of our country”, stated Ulrike Broschek, Director of Water Scenarios 2030.

Water Transition: The Future of Water in Chile" is the result of a cross-sectional dialogue process of over 55 public, private, NGOs and academic entities, coordinated by Fundación Chile, Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano, and Fundación Avina, which from 2016 are working on the construction of possible scenarios and roadmaps with concrete, effective measures, actions and solutions to help mobilize the public and private sectors to make timely decisions for the safety and sustainability of the resource.

Portfolio of measures, actions, and solutions

The publication informs of a study carried out in six basins, which were selected because they are representative of different realities and water problems in Chile (Copiapó, Aconcagua, Maipo, Maule, Lebu, and Baker) and whose results indicate that among the main causes of the problems that generate the Gap and Water Risk are: 44% of the deficient management of the resource, due to the lack of transparency of the water market and the lack of coordination of the institutions that are part of the basin. This is followed by the increase in water demand due to growth in the productive sectors and the over granting of water use rights with 17%; water pollution due to diffuse pollution from agricultural and mining activities with 14%; decrease in supply due to decreased rainfall, glacial retreat, and overexploitation of aquifers, with 12%; environmental damage due to degradation of water ecosystems, with 6%; natural disasters due to increased frequency of extreme events, with 5%, and 2% others.

With Water Transition as a focal point and to move to a sustainable scenario, the research offers a portfolio with over 212 Technological Measures, Actions, and Solutions (MAS) spanning from engineering, ancestral practices, conservation actions, to resource management. This way, it shows the existence of a wide range of alternatives for application in different scales, sectors, and users of the resource. The benefits and externalities generated by these measures are also described, under regulatory analysis, social and environmental impacts, investment costs, and volume of water that could be contributed to the basins.

Of the total assessed MAS, it was identified that 80% have a low social impact, while 84% generate an environmental contribution that is, they are initiatives that contribute to the recovery of vegetation, habitat, endemic species, and hydrological processes, improving the quality of water and allowing the conservation of the resource.

The analysis of the regulatory and institutional framework indicates that 52% of the MAS can be implemented in the short term and 41% in the medium term.

Among the measures considered relevant for the analyzed basins, it should be noted that there is an important group of solutions related to conservation and protection of water ecosystems, as well as efficient and strategic use of water resources, which have low investment costs, provide average volumes of water, can be developed in a short term, and have positive environmental and social externalities.

Some of the measures that are considered are the protection of natural areas for recharging aquifers, afforestation with native species, river banks repair, permeable pavements and water squares to recharge aquifers in urban areas, irrigation technification, and swapping to crops with lower water requirement, among others.

On the other hand, there is a group of measures within the portfolio that are smaller in number (16%), which have high visibility in different decision-making spaces and means of dissemination, such as desalination, reservoirs and water transfer by land and sea, which allow the incorporation of water to reduce the Water Gap, however, they have negative environmental and social impacts, which are necessary to mitigate and compensate for their adequate implementation.