Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s Water Challenges

According to official estimates (by IBGE and SEADE), the State of São Paulo, in Brazil’s southeast region, has a population of around 45 million inhabitants (about 20% of the country’s population), and is responsible for about a third of the national GDP. With an urbanization rate of almost 97%, the states’ population is concentrated in six metropolitan regions, mostly in the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo (MRSP), a conurbation of 21 million inhabitants.

In 2018, according to the Sanitation Panel Brazil (SNIS), 96.2 percent of the population in the State of São Paulo had access to water, and 89.8 percent had access to sewage collection, being the percentage of treated sewage around 65% of the total water consumed. The average income of people with sanitation was almost 2.5 times higher than the one of people without sanitation.

Brazil and the State of São Paulo have developed very complex systems for water resources management. In addition to a vast normative framework, the governance system includes public executive bodies and multi-stakeholder platforms, such as water councils and river basin committees. Through these platforms, representatives of public, private, and civil sectors can participate in water resources planning and management processes.

The State of São Paulo faces multiple challenges towards achieving universal sanitation and water security goals. Some of them are:

  1. Tendency to water scarcity in a climate change context. Although the State of São Paulo shows the best indicators in the country regarding coverage of public water supply and sanitation services, water stress is a blunt reality in some areas, like the basins of the Upper Tietê and of the Piracicaba, Capivari, and Jundiaí Rivers (PCJ), where water availability per capita is critical.

    A study prepared by Consórcio PCJ, the consortium of municipalities of the PCJ Basins, demonstrates a tendency of average rainfall decrease in the region since 2011. The main reservoirs of the Cantareira System have not fully recovered from the impact of the exceptional water crisis in 2014-15, and this study estimates that the region might face another severe draught in 2025-27.

    The MRSP is highly dependable on inter-basin transfers, specially from the PCJ basin, to ensure the water supply required to meet present and future demands. This dependance will certainly increase as other inter-basin transfers are foreseen by the MRSP Master Plan for Water Supply (PDAA, 2020), reinforcing the need for a macro-regional approach in water resources planning and management. Water scarcity in the Upper Tietê and the PCJ basins puts not only public supply under risk, but also prevents industrial development, since hydro-intensive activities can no longer be installed.


  2. Impacts on water resources associated to formal and informal urban expansion over rural and water source protection areas. Intense water pollution in urban areas due to the insufficient coverage of wastewater collection and treatment services, especially in informal urban settlements, reduces even more the water stocks available. Providing these areas with sanitation infrastructure turned out into a very difficult task, due to technical, economic, and juridical hurdles. The lack of control of the urban sprawl by municipalities (including in water source protection areas) and an inadequate culture regarding solid waste disposal have contributed to pollution, silting up, and degradation of urban rivers.

  3. Insufficient investment in infrastructure and management of sanitation services, especially in sewage collection and treatment, solid waste collection and management, and urban drainage. The practice of reusing treated domestic effluents for non-potable purposes (urban and industrial) is a promising alternative to help reducing pressure on water availability in critical basins, but it is still in lead-off.

  4. Need for cultural changes regarding water use, wastewater and solid waste management, and the relationship between individuals and the public space and rivers in this city. Occupation of riverbanks by expressways and favelas has also obstructed public access and other urban uses, such as navigation, recreation, riverside parks, etc. This setting negatively affects people’s quality of life and their perception of rivers and water in the urban environment.

  5. Lack of integration of the sanitation sector management systems, policies, and actions with those from other public sectors in the city of São Paulo, such as drainage, solid waste, transportation, social housing, urban planning, and landscaping. An increased coordination and exchange can promote synergies and implementation of improvements in terms of legislations, plans, environmental inspections, among other key processes.

Approach and Results

2030 WRG started its work in São Paulo in 2017, when it was signed an MoU with the State Government’s Secretariat for Sanitation and Water Resources (SSWR). The document formalized a partnership to promote dialogue, public-private collaboration, and private sector participation in water resources and water security management in the State. In 2019, the SSWR was integrated within the structure of the new State Secretariat for Infrastructure and Environment (SIMA), but the MoU terms keep fully operational.

As of 2018, it was initiated the structuring of workstreams and working groups to articulate significant interlocutors in the sector around concrete proposals, and with that, results began to come up. In May 2019, our Country Coordinator, Stela Goldenstein, was invited to integrate SIMA’s Board of Directors and the São Paulo Commercial Association’s Urban Policy Council.

In December 2020, it was installed the 2030 WRG São Paulo Steering Committee, a multi-stakeholder platform (MSP) with representatives from public and private sector, civil society organization, and academia, whose role is to discuss, validate, supervise, and guide our activities and priorities. The State Secretary for Infrastructure and Environment is the chairman.

Through workstreams or thematic areas, we coordinate our partnerships aimed at developing specific initiatives/projects.