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Uruguay’s historic drought leaves water supply running dangerously low

A historic drought in Uruguay has left the reservoirs that provide water for the country’s capital Montevideo almost dry.

Low rainfall and high temperatures across the southern region of South America have triggered a severe drought over the last year, affecting crops in neighboring grains producer Argentina and triggering steep farm losses.

In Uruguay, the water deficit is the worst in 74 years, according to officials. It is affecting supply to thousands of households and leading to poor water quality.

Patches of dirt can be seen surrounding some spots of water in Canelon Grande Reservoir.

Water levels in the Paso Severino reservoir, which serves more than half of Uruguay’s 3.5 million people, are at “historical lows”, according to state water company Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE), at around 10% of capacity.

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The latest data shows it has around 6.2 million cubic meters of water, a far cry from the 60 million monthly average. Around 650,000 cubic meters is needed every day to supply the capital.

Light rainfall in recent days “did not change the outlook,” OSE said, although some showers are forecast for later this week. Meteorologists say 50 millimeters (2 inches) of rain is needed daily through to June for reservoir levels to start to recover.

Dwindling reserves of fresh water in the country’s main reservoir forced the public water company in late April to mix supplies with water from the River Plate estuary, resulting in unusually high levels of sodium and chlorides.

“I have a store and we are selling a lot of bottled water,” said Canelones local Luis Rodriguez.

Public anger over water shortages is building with street demonstrations planned in the capital on Wednesday.

Federico Kreimerman, president of the workers union at OSE said low rainfall, mismanagement of supplies and a lack of state investment was to blame. Water for human consumption also competed with soy farming, ranching and forestry, he added.

The office of the president declined to comment to Reuters. It has said it is assessing additional measures, including a new reservoir to reduce the salinity of local drinking water.

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