Extreme heat, forest fires the result of unseasonable weather; El Niño plays a role

Jan 10, 2016

Despite weekend rains, the Cuenca utilities department and meteorologists say much more is needed to break the drought that has plagued the area for four months.

The Rio Tomebamba was running on Friday, following rains.

The Rio Tomebamba was running higher on Friday.

Nighttime water rationing was instituted early last week in rural parishes near Cuenca, the result the of use of drinking water to irrigate crops. Ivan Palacios, who manages the public utility company ETAPA, says that using potable water for agriculture is prohibited and said his office is investigating. Palacios has said that rationing in the city of Cuenca is possible if the drought continues.

“We have had some rain but we need much more in the Cajas Mountains watershed to overcome the drought,” Palacios said. According to the national weather service, rainfall was light Friday and Saturday in the mountains despite the fact that some areas of Cuenca received heavy showers.

Recent high temperatures have also caused problems, according to Palacios. The mercury rose to 27 degrees Celsius (81 F) twice last week, less than two degrees below the all-time record, and was a factor in several brush and forest fires east of Cuenca. The worst fires were in the El Tahual forest, in the parish of San Cristobal. Other fires were reported outside of the Cuenca canton, in Paute and Gualaceo.

The weather service is predicting more showers for Cuenca in the coming days. “We hope these will continue and will help recharge the watershed,” Palacios said. “We need some good rains up in the mountains.”

The weather service says that El Niño is probably to blame for current conditions. “It is difficult to say for certain,” said a spokesman from the INAMHI weather office. “We are seeing heavy rains to the north of us but dry conditions in the southern sierra. El Niño is causing serious problems in other parts of the world and in South America. It is reasonable to assume it is affecting Cuenca too.”

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