I'm writing this from Santiago, Chile—a vibrant, modern city of about six million people nestled into a verdant valley in the Southern Andes. I’m here to film part of an upcoming Showtime series on climate change called Years of Living Dangerously, and I just came back from an expedition to the receding Tupungatio glacier—the source for the main river that feeds and waters Santiago—accompanying Dr. Paul Mayewski of the University of Maine, one of the foremost experts on glacial ice cores and abrupt climate change.
In a perverse way, my timing couldn’t be better, because just a couple of weeks ago something drastic happened in Santiago: The city lost its water supply for two days. Several million people woke up, turned on their taps, and watched incredulously as they dribbled dry. And climate change was almost certainly a factor.
Unlike other countries in the region, Chile is well known for its superb and plentiful water. The sudden crisis elevated water—and public panic—to the front pages of the newspapers. A powerful, high-elevation rainstorm had triggered mudslides that fouled up the country’s rivers so badly that Chile’s private utility company was forced to shut its intake pumps. It is also probable that a glacial dam had ruptured, sending more debris downstream. Such events are more likely in the rapidly warming Southern Andean environment.
My presence in Santiago has drawn attention from the local media—and what everyone wants to know about is water. Did I see anything on the way to Tupungatito that might indicate future trouble with water supplies for the city—and if so, what can be done?
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