Wasted Resource: What to do About Mexico City’s Water Troubles?
Mexico City’s water issues are highly problematic for the population and require a nuanced methodology to combat shortages. But according to Ramón Aguirre, Director General of the city’s water system SACMEX, budget cuts could put a damper on those efforts.
“Little by little, we need to increase the budget for water in Mexico City, and this is why it makes no sense to me that, this year, the budget for the department was reduced,” he told the audience at the Mexico Infrastructure & Sustainability Summit in Mexico City on Wednesday. According to Aguirre, Mexico City could be a global reference in water infrastructure given the fact that probably no other city in the world is built directly atop a lakebed.
The water lost in Mexico City’s pipeline system due to leaks in distribution networks amounts to 41 percent. Aguirre highlighted that these are normally small, dispersed leaks that require extensive repair programs. But with the current deterioration of the city’s drainage networks estimated at around 30 percent and an average pipeline age of 58 years, the budget cuts mean Mexico City is drowning in its water issues. “If we do not resolve our problems with water, the city has no future,” said Aguirre.
Leaks are directly related to the pressure on pipelines, and Aguirre said that stress on water in Mexico City is similar to that in Middle Eastern countries. “The degree of pressure is calculated by dividing the authorized volume of water extraction by the volume of water available, and this serves as an indicator to evaluate the sustainability of the extraction of this resource in the long term,” he said. Its use is also suggested as a measure of the vulnerability of the country or of a particular region in the face of water scarcity.
After his presentation, Aguirre was joined by Architect and Urbanist Iñaki Echeverría, Judith Maas, Deputy Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Mexico and Javier Arce, Development Director of Hoteles City to discuss Mexico’s water issues in depth.
Arce explained that he believed the way to alleviate pressure on water systems is through fines and punishment for those that exploit the resource. “I agree with punishment of water waste at all levels, whether in Las Lomas or in Iztapalapa,” he said, referring to two areas of the city, one rich and one poor.
But Echeverría took a much more nuanced view. “We do need fines but we also need to think about creating solutions to eliminate the need for overconsumption,” he said. “In the future, over 95 percent of the population is expected to live in cities and policies in these cities are likely to define practices over the rest of the country.”
In Mexico, in 2012 the estimated pressure rate on water resources was 17.5 percent, which placed it in the category of moderate pressure above the average estimated for the OECD countries, which is 11.5 percent. Worldwide, Mexico ranks 53rd among the countries with the highest levels of pressure of a total 180 countries.
In Mexico City, the goal for sustainable consumption of water sources should be 210l per inhabitant per day but the city’s consumption exceeds this amount by 60l per inhabitant per day.
Arce said that subsidized tariffs contribute to this problem, since if people do not have to pay for their water, they tend to be more wasteful. “The problem is that water can be overly subsidized in areas with issues accessing water,” he said. “The fact that people do not pay the full tariff for water is problematic as they fail to recognize its value.”
He believes that a large part of this problem could be solved by simply increasing consciousness of behaviors and their impact. “In our hotels, we have a sticker on the bathroom mirror in each room that tells the amount of water consumed per minute,” Arce explained. “People are often unaware that they consume around 5 liters of water per shower.”
Maas agreed that consciousness plays a great part in the use and misuse of water. “We can all play a part in saving water, whether by choosing to stay in a hotel that uses less water or simply by taking shorter showers in the morning,” she said.
She said that there should be an increase in education and knowledge sharing, especially among countries, cities, governments and the private sector. “The water management problems in the Netherlands are slightly different, but I think we can implement similar solutions here in Mexico,” she said. “We would love to export our knowledge in water solutions and I think we could also learn a lot from you.”