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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

 

Rodrigo Sanchez M.

Sustainable Water Management in the Atacama Desert: The Copiapo River Basin

Rodrigo Sanchez M.

Sustainable Water Management in the Atacama Desert: The Copiapo River Basin

The Atacama Desert is one of the driest deserts in the world. It is located between the Andes mountain range and Pacific Ocean, stretching between the 18°S and 28°S latitudes. In 1981, the military government of Chile established a new water code based on the principles of neoliberal economics, establishing that water rights can be granted to individuals and firms interested in using the resource, in the same way as any private good. However the system has failed in many parts of Chile.
An initial over-allocation of water rights, coupled with the characteristic aridity and high variability of precipitation has generated a water crisis in the Copiapo Basin. Conflicts over water resources, needed for the cities and towns, farmers and the mining industry have emerged. Mining output has steadily grown since the 1980s and has recently benefited from increased Asian demand and high Copper prices. The Farming sector is the greatest consumer of water, where 70% of the land is dedicated to commercial vineyards. On the other hand water cuts are currently affecting the domestic water provision.
Over the last 30 years extensive studies have been made in order to provide understanding of the water dynamics in the basin. So far, these have modelled the Copiapo aquifer, considering its levels and withdrawals. It is noted that the aquifer lies underneath the river, thus ground water levels, river flows and withdrawals from these two are tightly interconnected conforming complex system.
This study is intended to provide an easy to follow visualization of the quantitative crisis in the Copiapo basin, allowing the determination of a sustainable consumption level that can effectively guide policy-making. This work uses a water budget analysis over the complete catchment area to determine the non-renewable amount of water that it being consumed. It has been found that 52 (hm3/year) of non-renewable water is consumed by human activity in from the watershed system.
Water saving and water production alternatives will be contrasted and proposed for achieving the obtained sustainable consumption level. The determination of a possible mix of water use and production, under a sustainable development prism, will be developed considering the actual institutional framework, innovation challenges and the role of regulation.