Bad Water Supply Decisions in Venezuela


The picture shows the water storage system for Danville, Illinois. It was built by C2 Engineers.  It is located on a hill overlooking the town.

Visit any small town in flat parts of Europe or the Midwest or the Southeast U.S., and you will often see a big water tower. Water towers are still being planned and built in cities such as Toledo, Ohio and New Orleans. Water towers are built up to 60m tall.

A water tower holds around a days’ reserve of treated water. If a thunderstorm knocks out the power, the water still comes out of the faucets in town because of hydraulic pressure. That way, if the power goes out for a few hours because a tree falls on a power line, residents can still have water.

Water towers are not needed in areas where there are hills surrounding the town. In these areas, a storage tank located at an elevation above the town is used.

Even back before the advent of Chavismo, relatively flat areas of Venezuela used electrically-driven pumps to supply communities with water.  No water towers were built.  Planners assumed that the Guri Dam in Estado Bolivar would provide such plentiful and continuous electricity that they did not need to build water towers.  They never anticipated power outages.

Of course, if the power stays out for more than a couple of days, the reserve will eventually run dry, because pumps are used to get the water up into the tower. When the water stops flowing, bacteria, including pathogens, build up in the pipes. In developed countries, boil water orders are announced to residents.

Caracas has a particularly serious water problem. The reservoirs that supply the city are located below the city at 200 m elevation.  Electric pumps are used to bring the water up to residences which are located at around 1,500 m elevation. This is a BIG problem for Caracas. The elevation difference of 1,300 m is over 15 times the height of water towers that are built in other areas. Thus, when the power goes out at the water pumping facilities, the water goes out in Caracas.

The water supply system in the Caracas area and the suburbs of the Valles del Tuy below and east of the main city was precarious even before Hugo Chávez appeared on the scene. The Guaire river receives untreated sewage, especially from informal settlements that don’t have access to the municipal sewer system.

High levels of Giardia cysts and gastroenteric viruses from the Guaire river and other polluted streams in Caracas have been detected and characterized using molecular techniques.

The Guaire river flows into the Tuy river, dropping a pathogen load into the water that is pumped back up into the capital.  Additionally, pig farms in the Tuy area have contaminated the source of potable water since before 2000.

The water problems in Venezuela reflect the deterioration of infrastructure and will be extremely costly to ameliorate.