According to the figures announced by the Banco Central (Central Bank of Chile), in 2013 the GDP of the O’Higgins Region reached $ 5.625.324, representing 4.11% of the national GDP. The economic activity of the region is based mainly in those related to agriculture and mining. Actually, within the regional GDP, the two sectors that contribute the most are mining (23.6%) and agriculture / forestry (13.5%) sectors. Water is a very relevant input for both sectors. While irrigation represents approximately 90% of the consumptive water use of the region, mining represents about 5%. Other important consumptive water uses are those of sanitation and industry. Water is also relevant in the region for hydroelectricity, tourism and for the preservation of biodiversity.
While the situation regarding availability of water in the region has not been a problem in the past, over the past few years, the situation has been changing. In fact, during the 2011-2012 season, 22 communes of the region declared an agricultural state of emergency following a severe water deficit. This has diverse causes. On the side of supply, there is currently an important deficit of rain (-35%) and the seasonal flow rates have diminished notoriously (-45%); furthermore, the anual coverage of snow is less than a few years ago. It is very likely that due to climate change the availability of water which comes from these sources will be further reduced during the coming decades. In fact, the projections of climate change in Chile indicate a tendency towards warming throughout the whole country, along with signs of a reduction of precipitation (20-30%) by the end of the 21st century. The supply of water in the region will also be affected in terms of quality, mainly due to the growth of domestic and industrial discharges, and the diffused contamination of pesticides. On the side of demand, there is a growth of activities in all sectors which consume water: agriculture, mining, energy, domestic, tourism, etc. Given this scenario, the region is facing an important challenge in matters related to water resource management, especially if it wants to consolidate itself as an agro-food power within the country.
Additionally, it is likely that further requirements are added to those aforementioned due to the increasing demand by citizens that water resources not only serve productive means, but also ecological means, which implies that a large portion of the water which runs through the river basin will not be extracted.