MONTEVIDEO — Uruguay is the only country in Latin America that has access to a safe drinking water supply. As a result, most of the localities receive disinfected water continuously. Water quality in Uruguay is considered to be good, but over the years it has become an issue. The government hopes to further improve the efficiency of services and expand access to sewerage in areas where on-site sanitation is still used.
Clean water is provided by Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE) throughout Uruguay. OSE is also in charge of sanitation, except in the department of Montevideo, where sanitation is provided by the Municipality of Montevideo. About 98 percent of the population has access to drinkable water. However, only 34 percent of the population is connected to the sanitation systems.
Overall, the water quality in Uruguay is good. In fact, in recent decades, Uruguay had thriving water resources for consumption and ecosystem preservation. However, with the country’s economic boom came the competing needs for water among private consumption, nature conservation, industry, and crop irrigation.
Consequently, the country is now suffering a decline of surface water quality. The people of Uruguay have raised concerns about the management of water, particularly in the face of droughts and inefficient farming practices.
In the midst of the problem lies Santa Lucia River, watershed and water source for the metropolitan area and Montevideo. The excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides (agrochemicals) have caused pollution in the area. The pollution has also caused eutrophication-induced cyanobacteria.
The National Environment Office of the Ministry of Environment, responsible for monitoring the water resources, reported that from 2009 to 2013 the phosphorus level has exceeded the maximum permitted levels. In the watersheds that provide potable water, 25 micrograms per liter is the maximum level allowed. Unfortunately, the phosphorus level in Santa Lucia River Basin has skyrocketed to more than 150 micrograms per liter.
Although phosphorus isn’t toxic, high levels of it can cause the development of algae, including cyanobacteria. The government is working to rectify the situation in the Santa Lucia River, but it is projected to take about 60 years to clean the water. Restoring the water quality in Uruguay will require filters, treatment systems, agricultural education and a national monitoring framework.
Uruguay is moving forward to rectify the situation in order to provide the rest of the country with potable water. Regardless of the situation, Uruguay is still known for having the cleanest water. In 2015 the water quality in Uruguay had 99 percent of tap water at a potable standard. Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done to further improve the water quality.
– Solansh Moya