The governments of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s wealthiest and most populous states, exchanged accusations and litigation threats on Tuesday after the decision by the operators of a dam in Sao Paulo to reduce the flow of a river to guarantee their own access to the water.
The reduction of the flow in the Jaguari River, which supplies not only water but also electricity to the states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, aggravated the conflict arising from water scarcity as a consequence of the region’s prolonged drought.
Despite the fact that the ONS national electric grid operator recommended that the Sao Paulo government increase the water flow in the Jaguari River, Sao Paulo utility Cesp last Friday reduced the volume of water flowing into the basin of the tributary of the Paraiba do Sul River, a move that directly harms the hydroelectric industry of Rio de Janeiro state.
Currently, Cesp is only releasing from the Jaguari River hydroelectric dam a third of the water volume demanded by the ONS.
Mauro Arce, the secretary of Health and Water Resources for Sao Paulo and former Cesp president, said Tuesday that he is ready to file a lawsuit in the matter because, he says, the law should give priority to the water supply made available to aqueducts - that is, water for human consumption - before hydroelectric facilities.
He asked the national water regulator, the ANA, to reduce its demands on the Paraiba do Sul River’s water, which winds up in Rio de Janeiro, to guarantee the supply to households in Sao Paulo state, including the likenamed metropolis that is Brazil’s largest city.
“The most serious problem is placing the human supply at risk ... We can generate energy with gas and petroleum,” Arce said.
The Sao Paulo government’s decision was criticized on Tuesday by Rio state Gov. Luiz Fernando Pezao, who also fears a reduction in water supply.
Pezao said he would contact the ANA, the federal Environment Ministry and, “if necessary,” President Dilma Rousseff.
“Just 45 cubic meters per second are used for human consumption in Rio de Janeiro, out of a total of 113 cubic meters per second that are passed on,” Sao Paulo Gov. Geraldo Alckmin said.
Last week the National Electrical Energy Agency said that Cesp was not following its recommendation to increase the flow in the Jaguari River so as not to harm the performance of the system of hydroelectric dams that supply Rio de Janeiro.
The agency will open an investigation if Cesp does not amend its decision, chief regulator Romeu Rufino said.
The dispute could get worse in the coming months if the scarcity of rain persists.