Bogotá faces water crisis as San Rafael Reservoir runs dry

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View of the San Rafael reservoir in La Calera. Photo: Alcaldía

With a population of nine million inhabitants, Bogotá finds itself in a critical situation with regards to its water supply. Initial projections from Mayor Carlos Fernando Galán suggest that water rationing may need to be enforced for up to a year. The urgency of the situation stems from the dire condition of the San Rafael reservoir, which provides 70% of the capital’s water.

Unless significant rainfall occurs to raise the water levels above 60%, the reservoir is expected to dry up within the next several months. Situated in the town of La Calera, some 20 km East of Bogotá, the San Rafael Embalse is a vital component of the Chingaza water system, serving as the primary water source for Bogotá.

Aerial view of the San Rafael reservoir in La Calera. Photo: Alcaldía

At present, the San Rafael reservoir, with a capacity of 68 million cubic meters, is alarmingly low, standing at just 19.06% of its total capacity. As a result, water rationing measures have been implemented, starting with Zone 1 of the Colombian capital. The Mayor has divided Bogotá into nine zones, each with a total shutdown in water during 24 hours.

Thursday’s Zone 1 encompasses 286 neighborhoods across 10 localities. Should the reservoir levels continue to decline in the coming weeks, fines may be imposed on businesses and households that fail to comply with water conservation measures or engage in wasteful water usage.

Additionally, the smaller reservoir, La Chuza, reliant on the Chingaza watershed, has also experienced a decrease in water levels due to insufficient rainfall associated with the El Niño weather phenomenon. While central Colombia faces drought-like conditions, heavy rainfall along the Pacific coast exacerbates the regional disparities in water availability.

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

The critical state of the San Rafael reservoir, the lowest it has been in 40 years, prompted Mayor Carlos Fernando Galán to declare water rationing across all districts of Bogotá, effective April 11. This measure aims to reduce the city’s water consumption by two m³/s, representing approximately 11% of the total daily demand. Without these conservation efforts, the combined water resources of the San Rafael reservoir, La Chuza, and the Chingaza System would only sustain the city for 50 days. The question now on the minds of many Bogotá residents is what will happen when those 50 days also run dry?