Chile needs to take water lessons from Australia

Chile needs to take water lessons from Australia

Chilean Irrigation Commission executive secretary Felipe Martin has called on the country's private businesses and key water users to get organized, after seeing the progress that has been made in Australia over the last decade.

Chile currently has 108 municipalities in a state of agricultural emergency, due to what Martin calls a 'relative drought' due to a lack of infrastructure, with 84% of the country's water lost in the ocean.

He says the government has responded to the issue over the short term with cloud seeding in the regions of Atacama, Coquimbo, Valparaíso and O'Higgins, but this does not solve the problem.

However, he says the fact it has been done through a public-private partnership is an example of the kinds of coordination that need to be done between stakeholders and the government to tackle the issue.

In the medium term, the government was looking at other options such as groundwater recharge, along with the construction of a desalinization plant in Copiapó, and the potential construction of a reservoir in Valle Hermoso in Combarbalá, as well as in Ligua, Petorca and Aconcagua.

Martin recently visited Australia, which is the driest continental land mass in the world, to study how the horticultural competitor managed its water resources between 1997 and 2007.

"In Australia the first thing was to generate leadership, public or private - I think it's important that this leadership comes from the private sector with help from the public sector," he told delegates at Fresh Connections Chile last week.

He says another lesson learned was that there needs to be better communication between water users, the mining industry, farmers and health services.

For Martin, Australia's example sets three key tenets for Chile to take on - private business involvement, infrastructure and information. This includes better organization between users, professionalizing the issue, developing a water market, building reservoirs, piping systems to transport groundwater and water availability accounting.

He highlights a total of US$12.9 billion was invested in Australian water infrastructure over the period, including water transfer canals and the construction of remote control conveyance systems for water management, reaching an efficiency rate of 85%.

"The water shortage may limit the country's growth and the growth capacity that we have. The idea today is that efforts are made together. The solutions are there but we have the will."

Related story: Chilean delegates visit Australia for water strategy tips

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