Business & Economy

Water wells in Caracas, a private solution to a poor public service

By Sarai Coscojuela

Caracas, Jun 30 (EFE).- The constant problems with water service in Caracas in recent days have motivated some residents to seek independent solutions such as drilling deep wells so that they can regularly get water from their taps.

In different parts of the Venezuelan capital, residents are protesting on an ongoing basis over the scarcity of potable water, a situation that could last for days, weeks and even months.

Recently, a group of residents of the El Marques and Horizonte districts protested in front of the Hidrocapital headquarters, the state-run firm tasked with water supply, because they’ve gone for more than six weeks without service.

These demonstrations are being seen frequently in the capital and that is why in municipalities like Chacao, one of those making up the Caracas metro area, people have been drilling their own wells in certain buildings so that residents can have water 24 hours a day.

Even the Chacao City Hall has joined that effort, drilling 12 wells to benefit 80 percent of the municipality’s residents.

But Jose Maria De Viana, a civil engineer and former president of Hidrocapital, told EFE that the majority of the wells are being drilled without the proper authorization, which must be provided by the Environment Ministry, and that if the drilling is not done by competent firms damage to other infrastructure like the gas, telecommunications or potable water systems could result.

De Viana said that digging water wells, given the ongoing problems in the sector, is a private solution to a non-functioning public service, but it’s only temporary and hit or miss because there’s not enough subterranean water to supply all of Caracas.

“If they want to drill wells in the urban (sector) of Manzanares, they’re not going to get anything because it depends on the geology at each site,” he said.

The best way to determine whether there’s underground water in a certain area is to review whether there are nearby wells that can help to determine the soil structure and composition, how deep one needs to drill and how much water can be accessed there.

However, the manager of the Monitor Ciudad NGO, Jesus Vazquez, told EFE that the water that’s found is not always the best for human consumption and another study is required to determine its suitability.

“It’s a random situation and very unfortunate when you dig those wells and you get contaminated water, for example with gasoline,” he emphasized.

For those reasons, De Viana says that the best option to supply Caracas with water is to repair the existing supply system because if you start to take more water than the aquifers receive annually from rainfall and rivers, the water levels will be reduced “to an extreme where some wells in higher (sectors) will stop producing.”

Another point to consider is the cost of digging a well, which – according to information supplied by Vasquez – can run up to $20,000 in a country where the minimum wage is just $2.20 per month.

“It’s approximately $20,000 per well. We’re talking about $4 million that they could have invested in an aqueduct for Caracas,” he added.

Experts said that the Venezuelan state has not done the proper maintenance or renovations to the city’s water distribution system. It’s not operating correctly and there are constant electricity outages, meaning that water cannot be pumped through the piping system.

“The Tuy II System (one of the most important) has seven pumping lines. They work in series and it’s rather complicated. It requires enough mechanical effort and electric energy so that (the water) gets to Caracas and only two of them are working,” Vasquez said.

He added that therefore there’s not enough water to distribute to all who need it and, for example, when water is sent to the southern part of Caracas, it cannot be supplied to people living in the eastern sector.

According to Monitor Ciudad calculations, Caracas residents can receive water for just 56 hours out of every 168-hour week. That is, they are without water service for 65 percent of the time. The World Health Organization estimates that a person requires 100 liters of water per day to satisfy his/her basic needs.

De Viana also said that the system is functioning at just a fraction of its capacity. Twenty years ago it was receiving 20,000 liters per second and currently it’s getting just 12,000 liters, a deficit of 40 percent The engineer added that the reservoirs are full but it’s necessary to repair and maintain the pipes, motors, transformers and other aspects of the system, which – according to his experience – are only maintained at a minimum level.

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