Mexico City residents protest water shortage as ex-civil protection head urges ‘prioritizing survival actions’

According to the Mexican government, for more than 40 years, the Cutzamala System has been the main source of water supply for the Mexican capital and the metropolitan area; now, the supply of this vital liquid could be endangered

José Luis Montenegro
Friday 02 February 2024 15:57 GMT

In recent days, Mexico City residents have taken to the streets to protest against water shortages which, according to local authorities, have been the lowest ever recorded.

The frustration extends beyond the capital, with the community of Acambay in the State of Mexico witnessing residents storming the offices of the National Water Commission (Conagua) to voice their grievances. Similar sentiments echoed in the Azcapotzalco municipality in Mexico City, where residents took to blocking vital roads to draw attention to the alarming water scarcity.

“Water shortages are not a new issue,” Fausto Lugo García, Mexico City's former Secretary of Civil Protection, said. “The capital has recurrent problems in supply and there have been times when the government [both federal and local] has to limit it, since the demand is met through the Cutzamala System, but also through wells. And even then it is insufficient.”

However, recent circumstances have escalated to an unprecedented level, with some individuals reporting an absence of water in their homes, businesses, and even certain government offices for over a month.

Lugo García acknowledged the severity of the situation, urging Mexicans to adopt water rationing measures and “prioritize essential actions for survival.” He called for a halt to non-essential activities such as washing cars or sidewalks, emphasizing the need to restrict water usage solely to human consumption.

For over four decades, the Cutzamala System has served as the primary water source for Mexico City and its metropolitan area. The system relies heavily on the Tuxpan and El Bosque dams from the state of Michoacán, while dams in the State of Mexico—such as Ixtapan del Oro, Villa Victoria, Valle de Bravo, and Colorines—contribute to supplying water to the megacity and its more than 21 million inhabitants.

Mexico City faces a daunting challenge as one of Latin America's largest cities, grappling with diminishing rainfall, escalating shortages, and rampant urban sprawl.

Presently, the Cutzamala System operates with six macro pumping plants, 205.7 kilometers of steel and concrete pipes, and 72.5 kilometers of open canals. Despite these infrastructural measures, experts assert that the system still falls short of meeting 100% of the demand.

As of January 29, the Cutzamala System's capacity stood at 39.7%, a decrease from December's 41%, and a notable decline from the previous year's 54%, as reported by Reuters.

Notably, other major cities like Guadalajara and Monterrey face analogous water scarcity issues due to inadequate rainwater harvesting systems and the lack of secondary water use practices, such as recycling water from daily activities like bathing.

“Forty percent of the water lost is due to failures in the infrastructure of Mexican homes,” the former official revealed.

The historical context adds another layer to Mexico City’s water challenges. When the Spaniards arrived in 1521, the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlán was situated on Lake Texcoco. The conquistadors, over the course of a century, drained the lake, leaving today’s Mexico City built on the sediments of the old lake. Analysts point out that the layers of sand and mud, up to 91 meters deep, make the central area of the city particularly vulnerable to earthquakes.

“A little over 20 years ago, climate change has been announced with great force; and the water emergency has been declining since the beginning of this century,” Lugo García said. “The problem is many years old and no one wants to see it, only when it affects us directly.”

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