Video: Managing Water in a Dry Land

The Elqui River valley lies in Chile’s northern, mountainous Coquimbo region, which is extremely dry. The region receives only about 100 millimeters (4 inches) of rain each year, and most of it during one short rainy season. The rainfall is also highly variable and driven in large part on El Niño and La Niña fluctuations. In some years, the region will get close to zero rainfall, while in others it will get five times the average amount. Coquimbo has been in almost continuous drought since 2007, which presents an enormous challenge to those managing the Elqui basin’s water resources, which provides drinking water for two cities and irrigation for large vineyards, small farmers and goat herders.

The video below tells the story of how scientists from Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society, UNESCO, the Water Center for Arid and Semi-Arid Zones in Latin America and the Caribbean and the Center for Advanced Research in Arid Zones worked with the local water authorities to help them better manage and allocate Coquimbo’s most precious resource. They developed a seasonal forecast model to predict precipitation for the region using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and IRI’s powerful Climate Predictability Tool. They also developed an accurate model for the Elqui River that predicts the river’s streamflow for the upcoming season based on data from weather stations around Coquimbo. The Elqui water authority used seasonal forecasts for the first time in 2012 to generate water estimates for the upcoming summer.

“Our initial work sparked new collaboration with other areas, such as the Huasco River Basin, 200 km north of Elqui,” says UNESCO Programme Specialist Koen Verbist. “There, water basin managers have implemented a forecast model that applies the same methods as those used in the Elqui pilot project, but have added even more functionality.”