SAO PAULO – Brazil's biggest city is running out of water and options.
The worst drought to hit the Sao Paulo region in 84 years is forcing local authorities for the second time in a year to put water pumps below the gates of the main reservoir, where the level has dropped sharply, so water can flow to the city's 9 million people.
Federal prosecutors are also demanding that state officials immediately present a plan for water rationing, warning that otherwise the reservoir could go dry.
At Jaguari dam, one of the basins of the Cantareira System, cracks are spreading in the mud, scaring longtime residents who say they haven't experienced a water shortage like this in a long time.
"I had never seen the reservoir like this, nor anyone else living here," said Nestor Algario, who lives in Braganca Paulista, north of Sao Paulo.
The region got only a third of the usual rain during Brazil's wet season from December to February.
Experts complain about the government's response, saying officials have been more focused on the city's hosting of several World Cup games, and the campaigning by candidates for presidential and gubernatorial elections.
The Sao Paulo state government had said that pumping water from below the reservoir gateways could provide a four-month supply of water, but levels dropped faster than expected, according to some analysts.
"All we have left to hope is for rain. Without rainfall, we have no options," said Jose Carlos Mierzwa, a University of Sao Paulo professor who focuses on sanitary engineering.
Besides installing the water pumps, the Basic Sanitation Company of the State of Sao Paulo has diverted water from other basins around the city and offered discounts to consumers who reduce monthly consumption by 20 percent.
The company has tried to avoid water rationing, saying it could hurt families. But federal prosecutors insist rationing is needed to reduce the danger of the main reservoir drying out. They have given state authorities until this week to present a plan and warned of legal action if they don't comply.
Despite the company's public statements against rationing, Sao Paulo's main newspaper says more than 2 million people in the state of 44 million already say that their water is often cut for a few hours or days at a time. Some places have their own water utility, but 27 million people rely on the state-run company.
Guarulhos, a suburb northeast of Sao Paulo, is the state's second largest municipality and the one that began rationing water earlier this year, affecting residents like Petra Cabral, who says she leaves dishes unwashed for days.
"It is not raining and because the reservoir level is so low we have one day with water and one day without," said Cabral.
Associated Press writer Tatiana Polastri contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.
Adriana Gomez Licon on Twitter: http://twitter.com/agomezlicon