Roberto Olivares
President Of Reloc And Former Director General
View from the Top

Water Culture: All the Uses and All the Users

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 11:41

Q: What are Mexico’s most pressing needs regarding water and sanitation infrastructure?
A: I am convinced that the main problem is the substitution and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure. As the National Water Program (PNH) — the particular public policy for these matters — does not specifically address infrastructure rehabilitation, this vital and key issue is neglected. As a result, 45 percent of Mexico’s water is lost due to leaks and an increasing number of sinkholes. This problem must be properly addressed through clear policies that prioritize the investment of major maintenance for water infrastructure.
To be more specific, water production costs can be split in three. First, the daily expenses that can be considered fixed costs, such as energy bills and rent, payrolls and other inputs. These are poorly managed in Mexico. Second, the cost of major maintenance and infrastructure substitution, which is not handled well at all. Third, the development of a master plan for water management and services that considers a demographic growth forecast and aim to guarantee an optimum supply of water services for the future. If the first two are not addressed, then the third one cannot even be considered. This problem can be solved through investment by securing the required resources as a national security priority, as it should be according to the law.
Q: How much investment is required to achieve adequate water management in Mexico and how can this be financed?
A: Eleven years ago, there was a budget of MX$11 billion for the water sector. By 2011, the investment in water management was MX$58 billion, after the World Water Forum highlighted water as a priority. Today, the budget has been cut and barely reaches MX$23 billion. The big drain on this investment in such a short period corresponds to CONAGUA announcing its inability to continue investing due to the sluggish economic conditions the country has faced for several years. It also invoked Article 115 of the Constitution and argued that the provision of water services is a municipal duty. By delegating this responsibility to the municipalities, the federal authorities are neglecting the fact that this decree was published 35 years ago without considering if municipalities had the capacity to absorb the expense, and obviously they do not and never will. Also, given that water and sanitation services are a state monopoly, it should be the state that is responsible for them. The modification to Article 4 of the Constitution, regarding the human right to water, establishes that the state will secure this right.
Q: What is your view on the private sector’s involvement in water management?
A: The most important factor is to acknowledge that privatization of water poses no risk in Mexico as this is not allowed by the Constitution. Also, people often make the mistake of believing that water is a human right. There is a difference between the right to access water and potable water services as the latter has an economic variable since water infrastructure has an economic value. The focus must be on exploring the possibilities for private participation and association for water services. This collaboration must be shielded by robust regulations, to which ANEAS is contributing.
Q: What is ANEAS’ forecast for the future of water management infrastructure in Mexico?
A: We expect that the next administration will take over the responsibility of water management. There is a precedent for a platform based on the General Water Law, drafted by the Commission of Potable Water and Sanitation of the Chamber of Deputies. ANEAS is closely working on this law that proposes a path for a new integrated water management model together with watershed management, water security and the human right to access water.
Urban water services represent about 14.6 percent of the total water usage, so we must also consider industrial, agricultural and other applications. The creation of the National Council for Water Culture (CONACH) was a great accomplishment.