Brazil Allocation

It is estimated that between 1877 and 1879 more than half a million residents of the Brazilian state of Ceará died in what is known as the great drought or “Grande Secca.” Since then, extreme climate variability has continued to make life difficult for residents of the state. The Ceará allocation project provides new methods for season-ahead climate prediction along with techniques for translating and presenting forecasting information to citizen committees to facilitate the most efficient allocation of water and the greatest possible cooperation between different sectors of the economy.

“The Columbia Water Center was one of the original core partners of the PepsiCo Foundation’s Water Portfolio a decade ago, which I was fortunate to co-create. At the time, it was the largest grant by the Foundation to a single grantee, which brought interest in the collaboration from many stakeholders, both internal and external. Dr. Lall and the team at the Columbia Water Center did not disappoint! The partnership not only provided over 4,000,000 people with access to safe water, but proved innovative models of predictive water allocation, and demonstrated the impact that can result when world-class academic rigor, private sector support, and an enabling policy framework by government work together in unison.”
Dan Bena, Former Head of Sustainable Development, PepsiCo Global Operations, Professor (Hon) and Trustee, Glasgow Caledonian University

In Ceará, local citizen committees representing residential, industrial and agricultural water users are responsible for making seasonal reservoir storage and allocation decisions. These decisions are based on information provided by the state water resource authority, COGERH, the organization that oversees the states water supply infrastructure including dams, delivery systems and 126 reservoirs.

However, dramatic fluctuations in the amount of rainfall the region receives from year-to-year make this decision-making and planning process extremely challenging, even as divergent interests set the stage for potential conflict among different sectors.

Chart showing annual variabilty of precipitation inflows along with annual use. Better climate forecasts will allow users to correct for the extreme variance of regional precipitation when making water allocation decisions.

To facilitate a more informed and less contentious planning process, Columbia Water Center not only developed advanced climate prediction models that extend forecasting accuracy from six months to two years, but also integrated those models into a “decision-support” system to assist committees in planning for the equitable and mutually beneficial allocation planning at any given time. The CWC Brazil team then trained a diverse range of stakeholders, from committee members to COGERH employees to understand and use the new information.

This process allows different sectors to cooperate in innovative ways. For example, with a clearer picture of an upcoming drought, farmers could avoid the risk of total crop loss by not planting in a given year, while ceding their water rights to industry for compensation—thereby transforming a situation characterized by uncertainty and potential conflict into a cooperative, mutually beneficial and efficient process to benefit all residents of the state.

COGERH staff working with members of Allocation Committees to incorporate CWCs climate forecasting information.