Chile's water woes to continue in 2012
Universidad de Chile agroclimatology professor Fernando Santibáñez says Chile's water situation has reached critical levels, with rainfall unlikely to normalize until June. The national government has declared a state of agricultural emergency across 77 districts in the northern and south-central zones of the country. Fedefruta president Antonio Walker says the grave water outlook calls for a more 'harmonized' approach to tackling the issue.
When La Niña is around it is always much easier to give a reason for weather-related troubles, but the phenomenon has basically left and Chile still doesn't have enough rain to meet its agricultural needs.
Santibáñez says Chile is now in its third year of drought with a 'weak Niña' and a rain deficit will likely persist for the rest of the year.
"(La Niña) withdrew in November and began to settle, and right now you could say there is a weak Niña, still showing signs of withdrawal in January," he says.
"Off the Chilean coast the temperature has practically normalized, but cold water remains around Ecuador, and therefore it is expected that a precipitation deficit exists.
"Through international models, forecasts say that the situation will persist until May. Starting that month we should be completely normalized and so we expect normalized rains at the start of June, although this year could finish with a small deficit."
He adds that snow levels from Choapa (southern province in the Coquimbo Region) to the south are very low, which means "in almost all the central zone we will see a fall in surface water availability or a lower endowment".
However, snow levels in the northern zones of Copiapó and Huasco are fairly normal, adds Santibáñez.
Tackling the issue
In addition to the declaration of agricultural emergency, the Chilean government has also declared an intervention with the Aconcagua River and instigated a public policy to mitigate water shortages.
Santibáñez says it is everyone's job to improve water management to achieve maximum efficiency and avoid unnecessary spills or usage.
"Furthermore, if the situation complicates further at the start of February some pruning should be done to avoid dehydration, and therefore lowering water consumption by a lot.
"Those who have water reservoirs, also try not to collect water unnecessarily, because on the contrary, if the situation worsens this leads to basin intervention and this ends badly."
Fedefruta president Antonio Walker says the situation is affecting thousands of acres of fruit plantations around the country, which calls a need for growers to work together towards the common good.
He says the association of growers need to efficiently manage irrigation in order to prevent the impact on industry production.
"We look forward to winter rains, but a normal year of rainfall wouldn't help for a total recovery. There would have to be more rainfall than normal for something like that to happen, but right now it's impossible to predict."