South America: Water deficits forecast to diminish considerably but persist in Brazil

17 November 2017

The 12-month forecast through July 2018 indicates exceptional deficits for much of central and northeastern Brazil, French Guiana, southern and northwestern Venezuela, and along a path in Bolivia from Cochabamba south. Moderate deficits are forecast for most of the remainder of Brazil.

Intense surpluses are forecast along Venezuela’s northeast coast and nearby Trinidad and Tobago, and at the opposite end of the continent in southern Patagonia. Moderate surpluses are forecast for central Colombia, small pockets in northern Peru, central Bolivia, southern Paraguay, Uruguay, and Buenos Aires Province in Argentina. 

Electricity surcharges increased 43 percent this month in Brazil due to drought-induced strain on hydroelectric plants, compounding October’s 17 percent increase. ANEEL, Brazil's national electricity agency, stated that this will be the fourth consecutive year of low reservoir levels. Over 75 percent of Brazil’s electricity demand is typically met by hydroelectricity, but Brazilian petroleum company Petrobras is seeking to increase oil imports from Europe — a stark shift from having offered export oil cargo last month. 

Roughly a year after drought triggered a national energy crisis in Colombia, the second such crisis in 23 years, the Ministry of Mines and Energy has announced plans to hold the country's first renewable energy auction within the next six months. The move is aimed at increasing non-hydro renewables such as solar and wind, currently accounting for merely 3 percent of energy production, with hopes of reducing reliance on hydroelectric power and bolstering international investments. About 67 percent of Colombia’s power is currently generated by hydroelectric dams, while another 29 percent is sourced from coal and gas. 

Last month’s coffee exports from Brazil were the lowest of any October since 2013. Decreasing exports over the last few years, especially of robusta beans, have been attributed to severe drought. Both drought conditions and heavy rains were blamed for another drop in 2017-2018 wheat harvest forecasts, expected to be the lowest in five years.

A Peruvian farmer’s lawsuit against German energy company RWE for €17,000 (US$20,000) in flood defense restitution was declared admissible by an appellate court in Germany in early November. The prosecution argued that RWE is responsible for 0.5 percent of the cost of flood protection necessitated by glacier melt in the farmer’s hometown in the central Peruvian Andes, citing a study attributing 0.5 percent of global, post-industrial carbon dioxide emissions to RWE. The litigation is noteworthy in many regards, including the fact that RWE does not operate in Peru and is the only utility named in the suit.

Brazil’s military has begun adding training modules in the Amazon region for dealing with fires, droughts, floods, earthquakes, ship accidents, and refugee migration events. Some 2,000 troops will participate, including those from neighboring countries Peru and Colombia, the US, and observers from more than 20 other countries.

The 3-month maps (below) for the same 12-month period show the evolving conditions in greater detail.

Noticeable at a glance in the map progression is the forecast of a significant retreat of exceptional deficits November through January. However, deficits ranging from moderate to exceptional are forecast for much of Brazil’s northern half and along its southeast coast from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. Severe to exceptional deficits are also forecast for southern Venezuela, Guiana, French Guiana, and Suriname; intermittently along the Andes range in southwestern Colombia, western Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and northern Chile; along the Chubut River in Argentina; and, in Tierra del Fuego. Severe to exceptional surpluses are forecast for central Colombia, Venezuela’s northeastern coast into Trinidad and Tobago, and southern Patagonia. Primarily moderate surpluses are forecast in pockets of northern Peru; across northern Bolivia; Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil; southern Paraguay; and Buenos Aires Province, Argentina.

From February through April a transition from deficit to moderate surplus is forecast for northern Amazonian Brazil and across the border into southern Venezuela and Colombia. Deficit conditions in Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana will become nearly normal, as will intense surplus conditions forecast for the prior quarter in central Colombia. Deficits in eastern Brazil will moderate. Primarily moderate surpluses will continue to emerge in aforementioned regions of northern Peru, Bolivia, and southern Patagonia. The pocket of both exceptional surplus and deficit (purple) in the Rio Negro and Neuquén provinces of Argentina is forecast to persist through April or longer.

In the final quarter, May through July, primarily moderate water deficits are forecast in many parts of the continent with more intense deficits predicted for northern Chile and Amapá, Brazil.

(It should be noted that forecast skill declines with longer lead times.)

There are numerous regions around the world where country borders are contested. ISciences depicts country boundaries on these maps solely to provide some geographic context. The boundaries are nominal, not legal, descriptions of each entity. The use of these boundaries does not imply any judgement on the legal status of any territory, or any endorsement or acceptance of disputed boundaries on the part of ISciences or our data providers. 


Many analyses reported in ISciences-authored blog posts are based on data generated by the ISciences Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM). Other sources, if used, are referenced in footnotes accompanying individual posts. WSIM is a validated capability that produces monthly reports on current and forecast global freshwater surpluses and deficits with lead times of 1-9 months at 0.5°x0.5° resolution. This capability has been in continuous operation since April 2011 and has proven to provide reliable forecasts of emerging water security concerns in that time-frame. WSIM has the ability to assess the impacts of water anomalies on people, agriculture, and electricity generation. Detailed data, customized visualizations, and reports are available for purchase.

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