Mexico has been facing water problems due to five main challenges: scarcity, pollution, conflicts over water, environmental deterioration of basins and aquifers. 

There will be a clean water shortage in the Mexican basins by 2030 if the population continues to be concentrated in the country’s main urban centers. Water problem comes from its geography.

The area of Mexico is 1.96 million square kilometers. Of these, 67% are arid and semiarid, and only the remaining 33% are wet, according to data from the state’s National Water Commission (Conagua)

In 2018, renewable waters totaled 451,585 million cubic meters — more than enough to cover the country’s entire surface. Groundwater is essential for Mexico, with 757 hydrographic basins, as 39% of national uses depend on them. 

Causes

drought - Mexico water problems
Drought is looming over Mexico (source)

According to a study published in the 2014 Global Environmental Change magazine, the Mexican capital is one of the world’s largest cities, likely to run out of water.

For the residents of that place, having water is the most incredible luxury. It is also one of their significant expenses. 

When the stored water in the cistern runs out, they buy jugs at 1,120 pesos a month (the US $ 60), while the income of some families barely reaches 6,000 pesos (the US $ 320).

It is the story of not only the capital but the whole nation. Mexico has been facing water problems for the following reasons:

1. New Law

In 2017, Mexico’s federal government reduced the budget for water and sanitation in urban and rural areas by 72%. 

The country’s capital was an example of the most affected cities. Environmentalists warned that such a dramatic cut makes it impossible to maintain water distribution systems.

Specialists warn that a large amount of water is wasted due to a lack of renovations, causing costly leaks. The austerity imposed by President López Obrador since he took power in 2018 has withdrawn resources from the environmental sector.

The resources were deducted for water management. Instead, the resources are used to finance megaprojects, including the Gulf of Mexico Coast refinery projects and the Maia Train.

In 2019, its administration launched a program intending to seek solutions for water management, for which it put into practice some of the 47 projects.

Mexico included the human right to water in its Constitution in 2012 and had one year to pass a new Water Law, which did not happen.

2. Overexploitation of the aquifer and vulnerability to climate change

Almost 70% of the water consumed in Mexico City is extracted from the aquifer. It is a layer of underground water on which the megacity sits. 

According to the official data, this water reserve is overexploited by about 591 million cubic meters per year. The situation is also breaking pipes and drains and slowly sinking the city.

The earthquakes also damage the water lines. The soil in the metropolitan area is very poorly permeable clay. That is why the water leaks very little to the subsoil so that the underground reserves are running out. 

In addition, the constructions of houses and infrastructures occupy the natural areas, where the water is filtered, and the aquifer is recharged. 

In addition, the supply could be affected by climate change since Mexico City also depends partly on water from external sources. 

27% of the water is imported from the Cutzamala dam system in Michoacan and from Lerma wells in Mexico. These systems are greatly affected by climatic variations.

3. Leaks, old infrastructure, and little maintenance

The water shortage is also aggravated by the many leaks in the capital’s water network. These leaks are due to the old pipes and the differentiated subsidence that breaks them. 

The government exchanged 13,000 km of pipes for high-resistance materials, but from 1997 to the present day, only 2,500 km have been replaced.

Besides the old infrastructure, there are few resources for its maintenance. The staff dedicated to maintaining the network is very few. 

4. Uncontrolled growth

A policy of controlling urban growth has not accompanied hydraulic engineering projects. The development of the city is ahead of its water system.

What has changed in the system has been patches upon patches, which were provisional measures at the time but ended up being definitive.

The water demand only grows with the inhabitants of the city. Mexico City has about 21,918,936 inhabitants, according to the latest official figures from 2021.

When the neighboring municipalities of the State of Mexico and Hidalgo are added, they reach more than 40 million people, one of the largest human agglomerations in the world.

5. Open basin

In pre-Columbian times the basin of Mexico City was closed. The city was based on a lake, and the water was in a closed circuit. 

But since colonial times, a canal has been opened to control floods and remove dirty water from the city. 

The canal development was followed by other infrastructures, such as the Grand Canal, the Central Emitting Tunnel, and the East Emitting Tunnel. 

However, this water could be recycled and reused instead of being drained out of the basin. But there are economic and political interests for which this water is not reused in the Valley of Mexico.

6. Rainwater is wasted

Theoretically, 9% of the rainwater is recharged in the aquifer. But this recharge is only theoretical since it is impossible to know how much arrives, and it also takes a long time.

It rains an average of 920 millimeters a year in the city; however, a significant amount of water is not used. The waterproofing nature of the soil causes only minor leaks into the aquifer, and it ends up flooding the city or in the drainage.

Effects

Water Shortage of Mexico. Copyright: Al Jazeera English

Mexico City’s 21 million people are already used to water scarcity. The area where the Mexican capital developed had a network of underground lakes, but the growth of the urban area led to the depletion of these sources.

One in five Mexico City residents only has water for a few hours a week. For another 20%, the supply only takes place over a few hours a day. In many areas, water only arrives via water trucks.

Currently, around 40% of the city’s water comes from distant sources, and no recycling or collection system works on a large scale. It is estimated that diversions and leaks cause waste of 40% of the water that reaches the region.

Apart from the unavailability of drinking water, the residents of Mexico are suffering from the following effects of water shortage:

1. Deep Extraction

Most of the water consumed in urban areas throughout the country comes from groundwater. Still, in the central and the northern regions, it is prevalent for the capacity of the aquifers to be exceeded. 

In the Valley of Mexico, this problem has caused water to be extracted from greater depths, aggravating the subsidence of the land.

The cities of Bajio also need to pump deep water, but due to the soil conditions, it can contain significant concentrations of fluoride and arsenic. 

Fluoride can create dental and skeletal fluorosis and decreased cognitive abilities in children. At the same time, arsenic has carcinogenic, neurotoxic, and diabetes prevalence effects.

2. Air Pollution

Mexico City’s water supply source is approximately one hundred kilometers away and 1,000 meters below. The energy needed to transport water to the city from this distance costs around $ 100 million annually. 

Water is costly, so far away, but extracting from underground would cause further ecological damage. The drainage of the lake’s aquifer produces more significant quantities of dust and, therefore, greater air pollution. 

Furthermore, the geological base of the city has become less stable (some areas of the city are sinking), which is partly due to the constant drilling of the underlying strata.

3. Sinking country

Slowly but surely, the capital of Mexico, Mexico City, is experiencing land subsidence. This subsidence occurs due to excessive use of groundwater.

Although not felt directly, this massive groundwater extraction could have fatal consequences: Mexico City will sink. 

Thinking of the city is already happening; the Mexican Government Building or the National Palace has been cracked due to uneven land subsidence. 

A steel pipe in the city could measure how deep the ground level has fallen in 100 years. In the past, this pipe was underground. Now, it’s looming.

According to experts, the clay layer is not strong enough to support the burden of the city because this type of soil tends to shrink when it loses water. As long as the city citizens continue to use groundwater, the soil layer will shrink.

Possible Solutions

rainwater - Mexico water problems
Rainwater Harvesting in Mexico (source)

Although the outlook is not very encouraging, all is not lost as the government and residents can take many measures to prevent water shortages in Mexico. Making the problem aware is the first step towards the solution.

Installing a rainwater harvesting system, saving and storing water are just some of the changes you can make to avoid shortages. The other measures can be:

1. Take care of the water

It is necessary to understand that we must take care of this natural resource. It is recommended to shorten the times under the shower, have a water-saving toilet, use appliances that do not waste resources, and never leave the water running without being used. 

Having a culture of savings and prevention at home is the first place to sow the solution and avoid the water shortage in Mexico.

2. Report water leaks

Indeed you have found yourself in the city with open pipes, cracks, or leaks from which hundreds of liters of water come out daily. 

The government must act and repair these leaks, but the citizens should also report them as they can go unnoticed for a long duration.

3. Store the water you need

To prevent the water shortage in Mexico from taking you by surprise, save the amount you require to use in your home or your business in a container. 

Be careful; you cannot store water anywhere; it must be held to fulfill this purpose since, otherwise, the water can be contaminated.

There are water tanks available that are made with materials that do not rust or corrode, so your water will maintain its quality all the time. 

4. Take advantage of other sources of supply

Water is a natural resource that we can obtain from the environment. One way to take advantage of it is by collecting water from its natural cycle and collecting rainwater

Many rural communities benefit from the rain to irrigate their crops. However, they can also use rainwater for household activities.

5. Take care of the environment

The natural phenomenon of rain is a part of the water cycle; however, its proper functioning is related to other natural wonders that make life on the planet possible. 

Human beings must take care of the environment to ensure these cycles continue to work. Since phenomena such as the greenhouse effect and global warming are causing changes in these cycles, causing alterations in temperature and resulting in droughts and other problems. 

We must be aware that everything that surrounds us is part of a chain and that if we alter a piece, this can affect the entire system. Therefore, if we want to eradicate water scarcity in Mexico, we need to have a country without pollution.

6. Fight Shortages

You have to simulate bodies of water since the underground aquifers cannot recharge and do not have a natural cycle. The construction of dams helps water security in the country to be supplied to the population in times of scarcity.

It is necessary to promote the recharge of aquifers, apply the Law to avoid clandestine wells, improve the efficiency of irrigation units and the agencies in charge of drinking water administration and sanitation. 

In addition, it is essential to reforest the upper part of river basins and generate risk maps with the aridest areas or those most prone to flooding to avoid future natural disasters.

7. Wastewater purification

wastewater - Mexico water problems
Wastewater Treatment procedure (source)

Wastewater has come into contact with human activities and contains dissolved suspended or colloidal solid waste.

The adequate treatment and reuse of wastewater is a valuable alternative to reduce the impact aquifers suffer since water is extracted at twice the recharge volume. 

Adequately treated wastewater can be used in various ways, such as in the irrigation of fields or green areas, to obtain the recharge of bodies of water, as fertilizer and soil conditioner, and for the generation of energy through biogas or biomass.

Conclusion

Water shortage is not the problem of Mexico only; it is a problem that the whole world is facing today. Not only are politicians and government to blame for the cause, but we as citizens are to be equally blamed. 

Each one of us should contribute on our part to conserve this valuable resource. If prevalent measures are not taken timely, the entire human race must face the Mexican residents’ problem today.  

(Last Updated on December 4, 2021 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Ankur Pradhan holds a bachelor’s degree in education and health and three years of content writing experience. Addicted to online creative writing, she puts some of what she feels inside her stormy heart on paper. She loves nature, so she is trying to motivate people to switch to alternative energy sources through her articles.