The director of the Serra da Canastra National Park, Arthur Luiz Castanheira, said in an interview with G1 (Globo 1) that the source of the São Francisco River, located in São Roque de Minas, is now dry. "I've never seen this situation," said Castanheira. According to him, this is the main source of the 2,700 km long river. The São Francisco is the largest Brazilian river and its watershed covers 504 municipalities in seven Brazilian states including Bahia, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, Goiás and the Federal District (Brasilia). It begins in the Serra da Canastra, in Minas Gerais, and empties into the Atlantic Ocean on the border of Alagoas and Sergipe.
According to Castanheira, the reason is the on-going drought. "The spring is the original source of the river, and from here the river runs to the fullest extent. It is a symbol of the river. Imagine it dry. The situation did not get to this point overnight. It was gradually created but this level has never been seen in history," he said.
The chairman of the Watershed Committee of the São Francisco River (CBHSF), Anivaldo Miranda, told G1 that although the news has not yet officially come to the attention of the committee, it will not be surprising due to this being one of the most severe droughts since historical accounts were first made of the river status. For him, the situation is worrying, as reflected in the level of dams which threatens the biodiversity of the São Francisco.
"This is not common, it is very troublesome. There is no doubt that something is changing our ecosystem on a large scale. The main reservoirs of the upper São Francisco, which are called the Tres Marys and Sobradinho are threatened and are approaching the limit of usable volume of water. In effect, the water of the main tributaries is coming to zero level, the biodiversity of the river is compromised, and the quality of the river is deteriorating, "said Miranda.
The useful volume of the Três Marias Dam, which was the first dam built along the river, registered 6% this week. The Sobradinho registered 31%. "These are very low levels and can cause catastrophic impacts, as has occurred in the Lower São Francisco. With the low level, the ocean is encroaching on the river and ruining the fresh water," Miranda concluded.
He pointed out that, although the source in São Roque de Minas, in the midwestern state, does not represent the total volume of water in the basin, it serves as a "thermometer," since the level of the reservoirs in the region is critical to the São Francisco.
The chairman of the River Basin Committee says that the river can not depend alone on the most humid and rainy period which should come after October. He argues that, regardless of climate change, the issue is an emergency, and needs to be mitigated, in order to stabilize the once energetic São Francisco basin, which usually runs with a great deal of water.
Anivaldo Miranda also pointed out that the government should treat the watershed as a priority by being one of the main and most vulnerable sources of freshwater in Brazil. "The river traverses almost one million square kilometers of a semi-arid region, serving the Northeast region and much of the state of Minas, where there are vulnerabilities to water shortages," he said.
Faced with this critical situation, which in the view of the experts started to worsen in April of last year, the Committee of the São Francisco Basin will hold public hearings with people directly impacted by the basin. The dialogue will last eighteen months and will be conducted with the federal government, municipalities, mill owners, miners, fishermen, indigenous people of coastal communities and the civil community. The purpose of the hearings will discuss the future of the basin and present the urgency of investing in water recovery for the São Francisco.
To make matters worse, in recent months the drought has caused several fires in the Serra da Canastra National Park - leading to the use of the water from the São Francisco to reduce them. In July, the fire ravaged about 40,000 hectares of native vegetation. "We fought the flames using river water, but that was not the most aggravating factor. What is more concerning is the drought and overall lack of rain. There is very little water in the river, and that is a sad reality," said the park director. The most recent fire lasted four days, and soon after, other outbreaks were recorded.
The drought this year has been taking place around the country for several months, except in the South. In the state of Minas, many are faced with the problem of drought, including cities in the Triangulo Mineiro, the forest zone of the state, which has already begun to enact emergency shortages by fining residents that are caught wasting water.
The outlook is bleak. The spring started at 23h29 on Monday (22) and, according to meteorologist Marcelo Pinheiro, the company Climatempo, the trend is that the station the temperature is 2 °C to 3 °C above average in the Southeast, Midwest, North and Northeast. In the South, the temperature can get up to 3 °C above average.
Furthermore, the spring must be characterized by above average rainfall in most of the country - however that is still insufficient to solve the problem of a lack of water in the reservoirs. Specifically for the region affected by the drought in the Midwest of Minas Gerais, the forecast is that the rainy season will only begin in October.
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Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.