Stricter water-saving measures for Bogotá as climate crisis deepens

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Water levels are the San Rafael reservoir are the lowest in 40 years. Photo: Alcaldía

The drought-like weather that has affected the Colombian capital for several months shows no sign of easing and is exacerbated by deteriorating air quality due to high temperatures and lack of rainfall.

Despite the water rationing starting last week for Bogotá’s nine million residents, Mayor Carlos Fernando Galán announced additional measures on Monday to discourage residents from using more water than necessary for personal hygiene and household needs.

Mayor Galán stated that couples should shower together and use less than three minutes’ worth of water. Additionally, he announced limits on the amount of water every home can use during a month. If households surpass 22 cubic meters, a surcharge will be applied to the next monthly utility bill.

As the water level in the Chingaza reservoir dropped below 16% over the weekend, and the largest Andean reservoir that supplies the Colombian capital with 70% of its water, after five days since the initial rationing measures were introduced, the capital’s daily water consumption remains near 16 cubic meters per second, and slight decline from the 17.84 cubic meters per second registered on April 9.

Water rationing chart and reservoir levels as Bogotá continues in its climate crisis.

The prolonged effect of the El Niño weather pattern, which has stumped the arrival of seasonal rainfall during the month of April, could deepen the water crisis in the Colombian capital. Even though Bogotá has not witnessed forest fires since January, the threat that fires could break out in the Cerros Orientales remains a very real threat.

Under the new water-saving measures, the district will also restrict water use for cleaning streets by 50%, and the exterior of TransMilenio buses will be washed only once a week, with interiors cleaned daily to maintain public health requirements. Exceptions to the water rationing measures include community welfare homes, non-profit entities, and hospitals.

To enforce regulations effectively, the district, under Mayor Carlos Fernando Galán, has established channels for reporting violations. Citizens are encouraged to report behaviors that undermine water conservation efforts to designated authorities, who will evaluate and take necessary actions, including fines and warnings.

The Metropolitan Police will conduct daily patrols to observe the behavior of citizens in each locality (washing vehicles such as bicycles, motorcycles, and cars in public, dumping waste into the city’s water bodies, pouring substances such as soap or oil into water sources). Violators face fines ranging from COP$700,000 to COP$1,200,000 pesos for recurrent offenses.

“We must all use water responsibly. Every drop saved contributes to our collective resilience against water scarcity,” stated Galán during the press conference. “This must be a joint effort from everyone. We have to use less water every day. Showers for 3 minutes, no washing cars, windows, or facades, and not storing more water than necessary for the basics,” he said.

The District has enabled the email juntosporelagua@gobiernobogota.gov.co and social media channels of the District Secretariat of Government to receive reports of activities that undermine the proper use of water in accordance with art.100 of the National Code of Security and Citizen Coexistence