Keeping the taps on

Mexico’s water crisis requires innovation and financing to solve.

Adverse climactic conditions, which can make the El Niño weather phenomenon even drier and hotter than usual, have exacerbated drought cycles and wrought water conflicts between communities and authorities in Mexico for several years.

Things are getting worse. Indeed, tensions have resulted in a slew of territorial agreements to stave off the potential for more violent confrontations. In August of last year, eight Yaqui indigenous groups signed agreements with the federal government to delineate and codify access to water resources.

A senior official at Conagua – Mexico’s national water authority – explained, “The lack of water in various regions of the country is a significant challenge. Neither the federal nor state governments seem to know exactly what to do. From our own monitoring and data analysis, many regions in Mexico are already in a situation of ‘water stress’, meaning that within a 50-year horizon, there will be a complete lack of drinking water.”

“Neither the federal nor state governments seem to know exactly what to do. From our own monitoring and data analysis, many regions in Mexico are already in a situation of ‘water stress’.”

Senior official, Conagua

Conagua is working with several local organisations in Mexico in order to improve drinking water infrastructure and irrigation but a lack of funds is hindering progress. On the coast, the priority is supporting the consolidation of desalination plants especially in drier states such as Baja California; to plug funding gaps, local governments are turning to PPP’s which can also bring in much-needed technical expertise.

PPP’s will be crucial given budgetary constraints, local agencies are hugely indebted, there is little resource recovery capacity to fund the necessary investments for the rehabilitation of the water network.

A former IMETA director in Mexico explained, “There are several innovative methods of alleviating the water situation, including rain catchment systems. Mexico City has a very interesting programme to equip social housing with these systems; their efficacy has convinced areas with greater purchasing power to acquire their own subsidised systems.”

“There are several innovative methods of alleviating the water situation, including rain catchment systems.”

Former IMETA director, Mexico

However, a major challenge is the lack of rain, which is why it is still necessary to bet on long-term solutions for efficient consumption and to help sources replenish themselves. Civil society organisations are also working on research projects, such as fog capture systems.

Mexico is also reeling from massively increased water consumption during Covid which significantly strained reserves.

Despite the country’s advances, more than half of Mexican households with access to piped water receive services on an intermittent basis, particularly in smaller municipalities and poorer rural areas. Low reservoirs affect not only drinking water but also farms – given the size and importance of Mexico’s agricultural sector, lower crop yields and inevitable water rationing will have profound consequences not just for livelihoods but for the economy too.

This is a challenge the federal government can no longer afford to kick into the long grass.

Ultimately, despite the rainwater catchment systems, many of Mexico’s water challenges stem from an overreliance on rainwater. Given that climate change has made this a less dependable and predictable resource, greater investment in desalination plants is currently the best alternative.

Importantly, the country will need to redirect fiscal resources towards improving drinking water quality and distribution alongside better wastewater management and treatment.


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