Water Quality in Uruguay: A Success Story

Water Quality in UruguayUruguay experienced significant economic development from 2004-2014 due to a large increase in agriculture and raising livestock. This economic boom led to an average growth rate of 5.4 percent for Uruguay‘s economy during that time period. It also brought low unemployment and rising wages to the country.

The Unintended Consequences of Growth 

However, along with economic growth, there were unintended consequences. One of the main issues associated with agricultural growth was that the country’s water sources became contaminated from the waste produced. The water quality in Uruguay continued to decrease until 2013. Here are four facts about water quality in Uruguay and where it stood when it reached the peak of its contamination.

  1. Drinking water is provided to Uruguay’s citizens by the state-owned utility company Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE).
  2. In 2013, a report was released saying that 94 percent of Uruguay’s rivers were contaminated.
  3. The main cause of contamination was as a result of the economic boom which led to an increase in the use of land for agriculture and raising livestock. Another contaminate was wastewater from industries.
  4. The San Lucía River in Uruguay is the source of much of the countries tap water. A local newspaper reported in 2013 that it could take a minimum of 60 years to clean up some of the worst parts of the river.

Big Improvements Made to the Water Quality in Uruguay

The water quality in Uruguay has improved significantly since 2013. This is due in large part to a coordinated effort by the government. Below are three facts to know about how Uruguay dealt with the crisis.

  1. The government of Uruguay put together a committee to coordinate measures to clean up the San Lucía River in 2013. The committee was made up of government officials, local authorities, and civilians.
  2. Uruguay borrowed $45 million in 2014 for improvements to the sewage network and water quality. The project was said to benefit 20,000 homes.
  3. In 2015, a study found that 99 percent of Uruguay’s drinking water was potable. This was a higher percentage than in Europe or Latin America as a whole. The improvements implemented by the government and other organizations have clearly made a difference.

Economic development can lift people out of poverty and improve the quality of life in many ways. As economies grow, there are often negative impacts to water quality, air quality and other factors important to health and wellbeing. The current state of water quality in Uruguay is an example of what can be accomplished when the government recognizes a negative consequence of growth and implements a coordinated plan to fix it. This success story should serve as an example to other countries facing a similar problem.

Aaron Childree

Photo: Flickr