Image credits: Francesco Ungaro
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News Article

Ongoing Drought Threatens Hydropower Plant Upgrades

By Cinthya Alaniz Salazar | Mon, 08/09/2021 - 10:02

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reports that 85 percent of Mexico is facing drought conditions that are depleting large water reservoirs across the country which in turn threaten Hydroelectric Power plant upgrades promised by President Lopez Obrador in late 2018. This concerning observation has serious implications for its citizens and threatens to undercut economic sectors including energy, agriculture and livestock.

Mexico has experienced  one of the most intense and widespread droughts in decades as of April 15, 2021, as reflected in the stunning images captured by its Operational Land Imager (OLI).

March 27 2020
March 27 2020

 

March 30 2021
March 30 2021

 

According to Mexico’s National Meteorological Service, the northwest and northeast of the country have experienced the worst, moving from severe to extreme drought.  Mexico’s dry season normally runs from December to April, but 2020s La Niña, which refers to the periodic cooling of ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, caused excessive precipitation last year thereby siphoning off rainfall that corresponded to 2021s wet season says the Americas Society and Council for Americas (AS/COA).

Mexico’s National Water Commission (CONAGUA) reported that the country experienced 20 percent less rainfall than usual, whilst some regions have experienced temperatures above 35°C (95°F). In combination, these factors have resulted in a 25 percent decrease in volume capacity in 78 out of the 210 dams that account for 92 percent of the country’s water reserves and elevated levels of evapotranspiration which measures how much water is evaporating from the land surface and from the leaves of plants.

If 2021’s rainy season is unable to bridge the current deficit this will have serious repercussions for Mexico’s hydroelectric plants, which in turn will have reverberating effects on the economy overall. Data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that Mexico’s largest source of renewable energy generation comes from hydroelectric power, supplying about 10 percent of Mexico’s total electricity generation in 2018. However, climate projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA) show that Mexico “would see a consistent decrease in mean hydropower capacity due to a decline in mean precipitation and runoff.” In light of this and increasing global climate disruptions, the feasibility of modernizing aging hydroelectric plants in Mexico becomes questionable.

“We should not depend on, or increase our dependence on hydroelectric plants. The essential life span of these plants must be reassessed. We have not seen a plan to dismantle others either, which is what countries like the US are doing. Dams that don’t generate electricity can serve as regulators and prevent floods and droughts,” Astrid Puentes, co-executive director of the non-governmental Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) warned.

Aside form potentially affecting net energy production levels, the drought also threatens water-intensive industries like agriculture and livestock. Sonora and Chihuahua have seen their cattle inventories shrink by 40 percent and incurring financial losses have forced them to sell prematurely which has resulted in a 20 percent drop in livestock prices. In Sinaloa, white corn production is estimated to have dipped by at least 13 percent, in turn forcing the country to increase imports by 50 percent more than in 2020.

In short, a prolonged drought will affect the daily life of 127 million citizens for the worse amidst an already terrible global pandemic. Going forward, the federal government must take steps to assess how climate change will continue to affect regional climate patterns so they can adapt national development plans around these changes and not spend public funds haphazardly.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
NASA, AS/COA, Mexico's NMS, CONAGUA, EIA, AIDA, USDA, ReliefWeb
Photo by:   Francesco Ungaro
Cinthya Alaniz Salazar Cinthya Alaniz Salazar Journalist & Industry Analyst