Water management in Brazil is critical, affirm researchers
November 27, 2013
By Elton Alisson
Agência FAPESP – Water resource management in Brazil represents a critical problem due to the lack of mechanisms, technologies and, above all, sufficient human resources to adequately manage the country’s hydrographic basins, according to researchers participating in the “Seminar on Water Resources and Agriculture” held on October 2 at FAPESP.
The event was part of the activities surrounding the 58th Bunge Foundation Award and 34th Bunge Foundation Youth Award, which this year is exploring the areas of Water Resources and Agriculture and Literary Criticism. In the area of Water Resources and Agriculture, the awards were given to Klaus Reichardt of the Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture (CENA) at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP) and Samuel Beskow of the Universidade Federal de Pelotas (UFPEL), respectively.
“Brazil has water resource management problems because there are not mechanisms, instruments, technologies, and above all, human resources that are sufficiently trained and with interdisciplinary experience to face and solve the problem of water handling,” said José Galizia Tundisi, a researcher at the International Ecology Institute (IIE) who was invited to participate in the event.
“We must generate methods, concepts and mechanisms applicable to the country’s conditions,” explains the researcher, who currently directs the global program on water resource management at the Global Network of Science Academies (IAP), which represents more than 100 academies of science worldwide.
According to Tundisi, Brazil’s hydrographic basins became water management priority units under the National Water Supply Policy, adopted in 1997. However, the country’s hydrographic basins lacked instruments that afforded adequate handling, noted the researcher.
“It is very hard to find a hydrographic basin committee [composed of members of the public and responsible for the management of hydric resources in a given basin] that is totally equipped in technical terms and has programs to improve the performance of water management,” he affirmed.
According to Tundisi, some of the instruments that facilitate management and decision making concerning water basin handling are computer models that simulate the performance of hydrographic basins, such as those developed by Beskow, a professor at the Department of Water Engineering at UFPEL, winner of the 34th Bunge Foundation Youth Award in Water Resources and Agriculture.
Called the Lavras Simulation of Hydrology (LASH), the hydrological model was developed by Beskow during his doctoral studies at the Universidade Federal de Lavras (UFLA) in Minas Gerais and Purdue University in the United States.
“There are several hydrological models developed in different parts of the world – especially in the United States and Europe – that are very valuable tools for management and decision-making related to hydrographic basins,” said Beskow.
“These hydrological models are useful to project the hydraulic structures (bridges or reservoirs), to make real-time forecasts on floods and to measure the impacts of deforestation or changes in soil use in areas around the hydrographic basin,” he explained.
According to the researcher, development of the first version of LASH was completed in 2009, and the model was applied to research on rain and water flow modeling to evaluate electric energy generation in small-scale hydrographic basins, such as Ribeirão Jaguará in Minas Gerais, which has an area of 32 square kilometers.
Based on the exciting results obtained, the researcher began to develop the second version of the hydrological model in 2011 and intends to make it available to managers of hydrographic basins of different dimensions.
“The model now has a database through which users can import and store data on rain, temperature, humidity and soil use, among other parameters, generated at different stations in the monitoring network of a given geographic basin and allows them to conduct hydric management,” he explained.
One of the main motives for development of models for hydrological simulation in Brazil, according to the researcher, is the lack of fluviometric data (measurements of water levels, speed and flow) for the country’s existing hydrological basins.
There is a small number of fluviometric stations registered on HidroWeb (Hydrological Information Systems), operated by the National Water Agencies, and many of them are not functional,” according to Beskow.
“There are a little more than 100 fluviometric stations in Rio Grande do Sul registered in this system that allow us to obtain time series data dating 10 years back,” said the researcher. “This number of stations is very low for water resource management in a state like Rio Grande do Sul.”
Rational use of water
Beskow and Klaus Reichardt – who is also a professor at the Luiz de Queiroz School of Agriculture (ESALQ) – highlighted the need to develop agricultural technologies that use water in more rational ways because the sector consumes the vast majority of the fresh water readily available worldwide today.
Water covers 70% of the Earth surface. Approximately 97.5% of that water is salt water, and only 2.5% is fresh water. Of this small quantity of fresh water, 69% is stored in ice sheets and permafrost, 29.8% is stored in aquifers, and 0.9% is stored in reservoirs. Of the 0.3% that is readily available, 65% is used by agriculture, 22% is used by industries, 7% goes to human consumption and 6% is lost, stressed Reichardt.
“In Brazil, we have the Amazon and the Guarani aquifer that can be explored,” affirmed the researcher, who has had projects funded by FAPESP.
Reichardt won the award for his contribution to soil physics in the study and development of ways to calculate water movement in sandy and clay soils, among others, that present variations in their properties. “This was applied to several types of soil with [variations in] saturated hydraulic conductivity due to humidity, for example,” he explained.
In the last few years, the researcher has been dedicating himself, in collaboration with colleagues at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), to computerized tomography to measure water in soil. “Using this technique, we have uncovered very interesting phenomena that occur in soil,” said Reichardt.
Cost of inaction
Also present at the event were Eduardo Moacyr Krieger and Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, vice president and scientific director, respectively, of FAPESP; Jacques Marcovitch, president of the Bunge Foundation; Ardaillon Simões, president of the Pernambuco State Research Foundation (Facepe); and José Antônio Frizzone, Esalq professor, among other authorities.
During his pronouncement, Krieger noted that the Bunge Foundation and FAPESP have many characteristics in common. “By awarding the best researchers in given areas annually, the Bunge Foundation reveals its commitment to scientific merit and quality research,” said Krieger.
“In some ways, FAPESP offers ‘awards’ to researchers too, through Grants and Fellowships and other means of support, taking into consideration the quality of research conducted.”
Brito Cruz stressed that research conducted by the Bunge Foundation helps to create opportunities for researchers to stand out in Brazilian society for their ability and intellectual achievements.
“This is essential for building a country that is in charge of its destiny, capable of creating its future and facing new challenges of any nature,” said Brito Cruz. “A country can only advance having people with intellectual ability to understand the problems and create solutions and resolve them.”
For his part, Marcovitch believes that the water management problem in the country can be viewed from either of two perspectives. The first perspective views the country as resting in a splendid cradle and having abundant natural resources and therefore not needing to focus on this problem. The second perspective foresees and warns of the consequences of inaction with regard to adequate management of water resources in the country, such as Tundisi has espoused, to stimulate researchers such as Beskow and Reichardt to find answers.
“[We researchers] have a responsibility to raise society’s awareness about the risks and costs on inaction regarding water management in the country,” he said.
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