Salt water from taps in Montevideo, result of drought in Uruguay

“How salty man!” This lament is repeated in Uruguay, a country crisscrossed by streams and rivers, but which recently had to resort to brackish water sources to supply taps in the face of more than three years of drought.

The “worst water shortage in 74 years”, according to the Uruguayan Presidency, threatens the drinking water supply of the capital Montevideo, where some 1.8 million people live, more than half of the 3.5 million inhabitants.

The Paso Severino reservoir, the capital’s main freshwater reserve some 90 km north, is nearly empty.

Without rain, there is only water “for 18 days”, Raul Monteiro, president of Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE), the public water supplier company, warned on Monday.

To control these meager reserves, the OSE decided in late April to mix water from the Paso Severino reservoir with a river that flows into the Río de la Plata estuary, and is therefore slightly saltier.

Since then, tap water in the capital has had sodium levels of up to 440 mg/l, and chloride levels of up to 720 mg/l, well above the limit regulations of 200 mg/l and 250 mg/l, respectively. .

“I used to drink from the tap and it didn’t taste bad. I don’t even think about it anymore,” 72-year-old retiree Maria Esther Fernandez told AFP as she filled her caddy with water. Montevideo.

She washes her vegetables and even cooks with mineral water, like Wilson Moreira, a 65-year-old civil servant who has made his partner stop preparing with tap water.

– “Healthy” water –

“Water is healthy”, yet say the authorities, who advise people with high blood pressure to drink no more than a liter a day.

However, “37% of adults between the ages of 25 and 64 suffer from high blood pressure, and only a third of them know it,” warned Uruguay’s Honorary Cardiovascular Health Commission on Twitter.

People suffering from chronic renal insufficiency, heart failure, cirrhosis and pregnant women are invited to stop drinking from the tap altogether.

Also salty for the wallet with a can of 6.25 liters of water for 130 pesos (about 3.10 euros).

“A cost” for the reduced retirement of 83-year-old Marta Sejas. “I have high blood pressure and I have to have heart surgery, so I don’t have a choice,” she said.

According to the Association of Supermarkets of Uruguay, sales of bottled water have tripled, but there are no fears of shortages.

– measures –

The centre-right government of President Luis Lacalle Po announced on Tuesday the construction of a temporary dam to guarantee the stability of supplies from Paso Severino.

It also intends to provide the country with a portable desalination unit and speed up repair of pipelines to reduce losses on the network, an estimated 50% in some areas.

Until then, “supplies will be maintained under current conditions until the arrival of the rains”, indicated Alvaro Delgado, secretary to the president.

In the longer term, the presidency is betting on the Neptuno project, an alternative source of supply to the Santa Lucia River: the construction of a water treatment plant coming from the Río de la Plata, 100 km west of Montevideo.

Meanwhile, the people of Montevideo are scanning the skies. According to the Uruguayan Meteorological Institute, the south of the country has less than a 50% chance of rain until the end of May.

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