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A Dry Tale of Three Cities: São Paulo, Los Angeles and Denver

Map of Western Drought March 2015

São Paulo, Brazil, and Los Angeles, California, USA are two cities that are on the brink of all-out water crises.

In recent times, prolonged drought raised fears of the Denver area running dry. This blog takes a look at the water scarcity situation affecting two of the world’s largest cities and how often-dry Denver fits into the mix.

São Paulo is a very large city. It is not only the largest in Brazil, but with a population of nearly 12 million (20 million metropolitan), it bests New York City, Mexico City and Toronto to be the largest city in all of the Americas. It is the 12th largest city on Earth. As of the writing of this article, the mega-city has about 50 days of water remaining for all of its needs. That’s right, less than two months of water.

Some may ask: how can this be? Isn’t Brazil home to the Amazon and all of its moisture? It is, but drought is a powerful thing. In the face of weather patterns that have withheld moisture, the reservoir systems that supply São Paulo cannot recharge fast enough to keep the water flowing to the many millions of people that draw from them. What will happen when/if the city runs dry? Some say that they will have to truck water in from other parts, similarly to what occurs in some remote parts of Saudi Arabia. Some fear far worse. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens when the ‘countdown clock’ stops ticking. For now, some limited rationing is taking place. Some expect that water provision restricted to just two days a week will become commonplace shortly.

In Los Angeles, and much of the rest of California, it isn’t yet that bad. But it is bad. The Los Angeles area and the Central Valley (including Sacramento and Fresno) remain in a state of “exceptional drought,” which is the worst possible drought scenario short of being completely dry. That ultimate scenario may not be too far off. As of now, following the lowest snowpack ever recorded in the state, California has less than one year of water resources remaining. Many farmers are pumping ground water that should have remained for decades to come to keep up with crop production. California produces a great percentage of the nation’s produce. What will happen if they run dry?

Understanding the severity of the situation, California Governor Jerry Brown has ordered that the State Water Resources Control Board reduce its supply by 25%. This is the first time ever mandatory water reductions have been ordered in California. Some say this is not enough and that tougher action should have been taken long ago. What started with lawn irrigation rules a while back went largely ignored and some say residents still won’t change their behavior even with the new restrictions. Eventually, they may be forced to.

So what about Denver and Colorado? For now, we are safe. Water laws written many decades ago will prevent California from draining our share of the Colorado River watershed, unless of course epic need forces Congress to abandon those longstanding water laws. As for drought levels, severe drought does exist in Colorado’s sparsely populated Western Slope and southeastern plains, but the Front Range metro area and corridor ski towns are currently without drought conditions. We should not get too comfortable, however. All it takes is another swing in climate conditions and we could find ourselves in another prolonged drought. What can we do? Take Denver Water’s advice: use only what you need; or even less.

CAP Management takes the threat of water scarcity seriously. We offer expert services in xeriscaping and indoor retrofitting to drastically cut back on water consumption at HOAs. While it may seem trendy to some, cutting back on water use can have a big impact on resource conservation while at the same time modernizing your property. Give us a call at 303.832.2971 or email our Chief Sustainability Officer Alex Bergeron at to learn how our award winning services can benefit your HOA.