State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

The Guarani Aquifer: a little known water resource in South America gets a voice


By Annabel Symington

The Guarani Aquifer in South America is a huge underground reservoir that lies under Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, covering an area of land the size of Texas and California combined.

The aquifer contains enough fresh water to sustain the world’s population for 200 years, and as water shortages affect us all in the future, the Guarani Aquifer could be a lifeline for millions. But increased commercial interest in the aquifer’s water, and political bickering between the four countries that share it, is threatening this huge resource.

“The Guarani system is a striking example of an international water body threatened by environmental degradation,” says Karin Kemper, a water resources specialist with the World Bank. “Without better management, the aquifer is likely to suffer from pollution and rapid depletion. Uncontrolled exploitation could reduce it from a strategic water reserve to a degraded resource that is a focus of conflict in the region.”

It’s a complex story with many overlapping strands that call to the global as well as local water situation. The story combines the fight between the indigenous Guarani people and the corporations who are using the aquifer’s cheap water supply, climate change and a bit of conspiracy theory (George W Bush owns a huge ranch on the aquifer which some activists are interpreting as an American neo-imperialist threat to South America’s sovereignty). There’s even a celebrity angle to the story: the James Bond movie, The Quantum of Solace, despite being set in Bolivia, is allegedly based on the Guarani Aquifer.

But this strategically important water resource has barely received a second glance in the mainstream media. That is why a small team and myself have formed The Guarani Project, and we are going down to South America for three months this summer to start piecing together the complex puzzle of the Guarani Aquifer to ultimately produce a documentary.

We strongly believe that by highlighting the plight of the Guarani Aquifer we can encourage people to conserve this water resource for future generations. The longer this story remains untold the higher the risks to the Guarani Aquifer and, by continuation, us all.

Through this documentary we want to make people understand that the scarcity of freshwater is no longer a problem restricted to poor countries. Shortages are reaching crisis proportions in even the most highly developed regions: the Ogallala Aquifer in central US is being rapidly depleted by intense municipal use, and in 2008, 438 million gallons of water were shipped to Barcelona, Spain, to relieve the worst drought that the region had experience in over 60 years. Water use has grown at twice the rate of the world’s population for the last century (Source: UN Water), and we’ve reached peak water, the point at which the renewable supply is forever outstripped by unquenchable demand.


Humanity is extracting and polluting the world’s fresh water reserves faster than they can be replenished. Rampant economic growth — more homes, more businesses, more water-intensive products and processes, and a rising standard of living — has outstripped the ready supply, especially in historically dry regions. Compounding the problem, the hydrologic cycle is growing less predictable as climate change alters established temperature patterns around the globe. As countries look to alternatives sources of water to alleviate shortages, the largest world’s largest body fresh water, The Guarani Aquifer, is going to be high on the list.

That’s why we need to tell its story now.

To find out more, and to learn how you can get involved with The Guarani Project, please visit us here: And you can see a short video introducing the project here.

You can also find us on facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr.

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