Dam Failure Delays Water Canal to Drought-hit Northeast Brazil

The collapse on Friday of part of a reservoir dam on a canal transferring river water to the drought-stricken northeast of Brazil is expected to delay inauguration of the $3 billion project, officials said.

President Michel Temer was due to open the first of two canals next week, according to officials in the parched state of Paraíba, where the second largest city, Campina Grande, is fast running out of water.

The Ministry of National Integration, responsible for the project, said the companies building the canal were working to stop what it called a “spill” at the Barreiro reservoir.

No risk of structural collapse

An engineer building the canal told Reuters that pumping stations were stopped and the reservoir will have to be emptied to repair the dam, delaying completion by days if not weeks.

“We still do not know why the dam broke. There will be a delay in reaching the planned volume of water flowing,” he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak.

The ministry, in a statement, said there no risk of structural collapse of the dam, which was built to hold 5 million cubic meters, though neighboring communities have been alerted to the situation.

Five-year drought

A spokeswoman for Temer said he was not currently planning to travel to cut the ribbon on a project that has taken 12 years to build, held up by political squabbles and corruption.

A five-year drought has dried up river basins and killed crops and cattle in record numbers in four northeastern states that are desperate to get water pumped 300 kilometers over the hills from the Sao Francisco river, Brazil’s longest.

Campina Grande’s 400,000 inhabitants have had water rationing for two years and face the prospect of their taps running dry if the transfer water does not arrive soon.

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