Continuing dry weather has prompted Cuenca utility officials to ask residents to cut back on water usage. Although the call is voluntary, they say restrictions could become mandatory if drought conditions continue.
Meanwhile, fire officials say that hundreds of hectares have been burned by wild fires in the area and more are popping up each day. During September, more than 700 hectares, mostly grass land, went up in smoke in the Cajas National Park, west of Cuenca.
Rainfall totals throughout Ecuador’s sierra region measured a fraction of normal rates in August and September. In Cuenca, where September rainfall averages 40 mm, or 1.6 inches, the meteorological station has recorded only 8 mm as of Monday.
The situation is even worse in the central and northern sierra, where many areas have received less than 5% of normal rainfall.
Some rivers in the region are flowing at historically low rates. Cuenca’s Tomebamba and Yanuncay Rivers were running at about 10% of their normal flow level on Monday.
Besides the Cajas, the areas at greatest fire risk near Cuenca, are in southern Azuay Province, in Girón, Santa Isabel and Nabón, where fire fighters put out dozens of small blazes on Monday and Tuesday.
The national weather office says that the drought could be associated with the in-coming El Niño but that it is too early to tell for certain. During the 1997 – 1998 El Niño, the sierra suffered one of its worst droughts on record. “We hope this is not connected to El Niño,” said Jorge Gomez of the Quito meteorological office. “If it is, the drought could be prolonged.”