Federal prosecutors have asked the government of Sao Paulo to present water rationing plans for Brazil's most populous state to prevent the collapse of its main reservoir. If such plans are not presented in 10 days, the prosecutor's office said on its website it may ask courts to force rationing.
Sao Paulo is facing the worst drought in more than 80 years. The key Cantareira water system, which provides water to some 9 million of the 20 million people living in the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo city, is at less than 16% of its capacity of 1 trillion liters.
Citing a study prepared by the state university of Campinas, the prosecutor's office said that the Cantareira system could run dry in 100 days unless rationing is implemented.
The Sao Paulo state government's water utility said in an emailed statement that it disagrees with the imposition of water rationing, for it would penalize the population.
Calling the drought the worst in the state's history, the Basic Sanitation Company of the State of Sao Paulo said that it has already adopted measures that have resulted in savings equivalent to those of a rationing system of 36 hours with water and 72 hours without water. Among the measures it mentioned is the 30% discount in the water bill for consumers who reduce consumption by 20%.
The utility said it guarantees water supplies until the next rainy season.
In a normal year, torrential rains shower Sao Paulo, channeling water through rivers down the lime-green hills to the north. But this year, only a third of the usual rain arrived, with 23 centimeters falling during the December to February rainy season.
In May, the utility company started pumping water from underneath the gates of the reservoir's dams. However the prosecutor's office said that this water has a high concentration of pollutants, including heavy metals, organic compounds, bacteria, fungi and viruses.