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  HOME | Mexico

Depleted Reservoirs Threaten Mexico City’s Water Supply

By Juan Ramon Peña

VILLA VICTORIA, MEXICO – Reservoirs that are a source of water to Mexico City – one of the world’s biggest metropolises – are at record low levels due to insufficient rainfall last year, prompting authorities to curtail supply.

“We’ve never been at such low levels,” the head of the National Water Commission, or Conagua, Jose Luis Luege, told reporters at the Villa Victoria reservoir, near the capital.

The average capacity of three of the seven reservoirs that make up the Cutzamala dam system, which supplies the Mexico City metropolitan area, stood at 47.8 percent on Wednesday morning, compared to a normal level of 63 percent.

That shortage, combined with planned maintenance work on hydric infrastructure, will lead to supply cuts in Greater Mexico City during Holy Week that will affect some 5 million people, a fifth of the metropolitan area’s total population.

The low water levels are due to insufficient rainfall last year, and Luege said that if forecasts for another dry year in 2009 prove to be correct (and particularly if reservoirs do not swell during the May to November rainy season) the interruption to supply could be prolonged.

The Cutzamala system, which uses water from the Cutzamala River Basin that is pumped out from dams in the western state of Michoacan, accounts for 20 percent of the water used in Mexico City and its surrounding area.

Water is transported in from outside Mexico City because the metropolis, which was surrounded by lakes prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, overexploits its underground aquifers: water from the Texcoco aquifer, north of the city, is being extracted at a rate eight times faster than it can naturally recharge.

“Mexico City grew without limits and without planning,” said Luege, who blamed the city’s water shortage on the metropolises’ deficient secondary distribution network.

Forty percent of the water that is pumped in by the Cutzamala dam system is lost in leaks due to the city’s old and obsolete system of pipes, which is managed by the municipal government and in bad need of repair, the Conagua chief said.

Conagua and the city administration have engaged in public spats in recent months over water policy.

On the street, meanwhile, word has spread that the only place water will be available during Holy Week will be at the capital’s artificial “beaches,” recreation centers with swimming pools, sand and games for poor city residents unable to vacation on the coast.

What is certain is that almost 5 million people in nine of the city’s 16 boroughs and 13 capital suburbs will feel the effects of water cutbacks over the long Easter weekend.

Between Thursday and Sunday, the flow of water from Cutzamala either will be cut off completely or partially, although water received from other sources will ensure that parts of the city are not completely cut off for days.

In just under 60 years, per-capita availability of water in Mexico, a country with almost 107 million inhabitants, has fallen by 75 percent; while in 1950 there were 18,035 cubic meters (635,650 cubic feet) of water per Mexican inhabitant per year, that figure had fallen to just 4,312 cubic meters per inhabitant in 2007.

Of the country’s 653 aquifers, 101 are overexploited, the National Statistics and Geography Institute, or Inegi, said in a recent report.

The volume of purified water sales increased by almost 2 million liters (530,000 gallons) between 2001 and 2008, while the value of those sales rose by 100 percent in the same period.

A total of 77 percent of all available water, meanwhile, is used for agricultural activities, according to the report. EFE

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