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The challenge

Copiapó is experiencing chronic water shortages

The Copiapó River Basin, located in the world’s driest desert, the Atacama, is facing an acute chronic water shortage for its people and industries. Growing mining and mineral production in the region has consequently increased water demand, not just for use by the industry but also for drinking water as Copiapó City has rapidly expanded to house mine workers.

A sequence of dry years and heavy exploitation of groundwater has resulted in river levels falling, and it has ceased to flow past the town where it would normally recharge aquifers in the lower basin. Groundwater quality has also significantly declined as deeper water is extracted which is placing pressure on drinking water supplies, sanitation and soil health.

An effective water management strategy is critical for the region’s prosperity into the future.

Our response

Analysing the shortfalls in water rights, usage and requirements

We teamed up with AusAid and the Chilean water authority Dirección General de Aguas (DGA), to analyse the shortfalls in water rights, industrial usage and social requirements for the region.

Together we undertook a comprehensive investigation into water rights governance and water management options, and developed a series of reports. This has provided the basis for a longer investigation into options for responding to and avoiding water supply shortfalls and water quality problems in the Copiapo River Basin.

The results

More equitable and sustainable water management

Plans to develop a comprehensive governance and planning framework have been accepted by the Chilean Government.

This involves establishing a three-year research project involving seven ministries and a range of relevant industry and community sectors, including mining, water supply, agriculture, energy, urban development, heritage and environment.

The work aims is to establish an equitable and sustainable water management system for the Copiapó River Basin.

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