The water drama in Uruguay: ways to “reuse household water” are analyzed

The water emergency that crosses Uruguay continues to increase with the lack of rain and specialists highlight “the increased sodium chloride” in the water that distributes State Public Works (OSE) to home networks, while the government of Luis Lacalle Pou desperately seeks alternatives to face what is already a water drama. Although the tax exemption for the bottled water tried to alleviate the crisis, the increase in consumption was exponential and in the shops there is already a lack of stock of drums, which led the specialists to analyze ways in which progress could be made in a plan of household water reuse.

The decline in freshwater reserves in the neighboring country, which they are around 1% normal flow, led to the city of Montevideo and areas surrounding the worst water crisis on record, since the Severino Pass dam (the main source of fresh water for the metropolitan area), is practically exhausted by the drought.

Severino Pass Dam.

It is feared that at least the next 10 days the water come out of the quills not be drinkablesince in order not to stop the supply in the homes, the water of the Santa Lucía river began to be mixed with that of the Silver river, which contains salt. This led to a dizzying increased chloride and sodium on the resource distributed by OSE.

According to a statement issued by the Presidency of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, an average of chlorides between 785 mg/L and 873 mg/L was found. The maximum limit allowed, established by the Ministry of Public Health (MSP) after the increase request submitted by OSE, it is 720 mg/L.

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The report also details that an average sodium between 468 mg/L and 516 mg/L was recorded in the pumping lines, while the maximum allowed limit is 440 mg/L, which indicates that, like chlorides, established limits were exceeded.

In addition, the letter indicates that the total consumption of water supplied by OSE in Montevideo and the metropolitan area in the 24 hours prior to the measurement was 493,712 m³ (cubic meters). These data are essential to understand the demand of the population and to evaluate the current supply capacity of the system.

Drinking water in Uruguay Drilling in Parque Batlle
Drilling for the extraction of drinking water.

Reusing household water: the idea of ​​the Uruguayan government

The amount of drinking water that is lost in daily actions of the home begins to weigh in a moment of emergency, drought and lack of fresh water. That is why the government is developing a plan so that household waste water is reused for irrigation in agriculture.

If we consider that every time someone bathes they use between 80 and 120 liters of fresh water and that flushing the toilet uses 10 more liters and washing the dishes between 15 and 30 liters, the result is that a person uses between 100 and 200 liters of water a day to meet your consumption and hygiene needs.

The residents of Montevideo offer their private wells for the Government to draw water

The proposal seeks to reuse this waste from grey waterswhich are those that arise from the shower, the washing machine, the kitchen or the bathroom sink, but not so the sewage, which are the ones that come out of the toilet and bidet. However, reusing those resources in homes that are already built may be a problem according to specialists.

“All the drains are going together, through the same pipe and the same chamber that connects to the collector,” explained civil engineer Julieta López. Therefore, it would be necessary to break floors and walls if you wanted to carry out a double sanitation for the division of water.

Despite this, the Ministry of Environment seeks to take advantage of the sanitation works, used to bring resources to 61 towns in the interior, to request that the bidding documents add the possibility that household water is reused for irrigation in the agricultural field.

Drinking water in Uruguay Drilling in Parque Batlle
OSE tanker trucks transporting fresh water.

The proposal consists of adding to the wastewater treatment chain a last stage so that it can be pumped or transported in tanker trucks. Until now, the process carried out by OSE to treat the water ends in rivers or streams. “The technology (to do it) exists,” engineer López considered in the same way.

The idea was presented by the Undersecretary of the Environment, Gerardo Amarilla, who explained to The Observer that OSE and the National Development Corporation are working to incorporate this last step that can take the water already used to irrigate the fields. “In Uruguay we are accustomed to wasting water because we had a lot of abundance”.

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With this plan, when drinking water is used for showering, washing or cooking, the liquid will return to OSE’s sanitation network, from there to the treatment plant and, instead of ending up in a river, will lead to an irrigation system.

The increase in bottled water consumption

To try to stop the crisis and bring some calm to homes, the national government sought to lower the price of bottled water with a tax reductionwhich led the drum to cost between 69 and 89 Uruguayan pesos, which would be approximately 2 dollars.

Along these same lines, Id Retail, a company specializing in market research, pointed out that “the average price of a liter of bottled water has decreasedon average, by 40% in all large stores”, after the exemption from VAT and Imesi taxes.

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As reported this Friday, as of June 21, daily sales of bottled water have increased by 15% compared to previous days. In turn, he highlighted the difference in sales compared to 2022: “Large supermarket chains have experienced significant growth in bottled water, with increases of 256% in May and 243% in June of 2023, compared to the previous year”.

This increase has also led to a depletion of the stock of drums in shops. In ‘The clone‘, a supermarket chain, sell out in just two hours. “We are replenishing every day, we receive 200 drums per day and they last us less than two hours. At first people came and queued up, we try to always have stock, but it’s difficult. So we have the restriction two drums per person“, indicated Martín Domínguez, manager of one of these stores.

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