Image credits: CONAGUA
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News Article

From Cutzamala to the Sea: Fixing Water Supply Emergencies

By Pedro Alcalá | Thu, 04/30/2020 - 19:24

A SACMEX press release published on Twitter last Tuesday night reported that Line 2 of the Cutzamala water supply and distribution system presented a leak in one of its pipelines as detected by CONAGUA. The accident that created the leak took place during routine maintenance of a gate valve. It forced the shutdown of the whole water supply line. 

Cutzamala is the lifeline for the Mexico Valley, a dried lake bed where Mexico City and other populated municipalities of the State of Mexico converge. The important role that Cutzamala plays in the valley’s water supply was mathematically defined in the press release: this particular leak was enough to result in a 50 percent cut in water supply to the area for Tuesday and Wednesday. In Mexico City, the most affected burroughs were Iztapalapa, Tlalpan, Benito Juarez, Azcapotzalco and Cuauhtemoc. This could not come at a worse time. As previously reported, CONAGUA had declared the beginning of contingency plans for a drought emergency just two weeks ago amid increased water consumption from homes and hospitals that comes with COVID-19 quarantines.    

The response time came quickly and illustrates the best-case scenario for infrastructure repair logistics in Mexico. CONAGUA announced that water supply was expected to be fully restored no later than 10 a.m. on Wednesday. A report from Animal Político details how the pipeline’s flow of 8,000 liters a second was immediately re-established, but the Cutzamala system’s sheer size and magnitude meant that it would still take six to seven hours for the whole pipeline length of 72km to get filled back up again. The synergy between CONAGUA and SACMEX are exemplified by the promptness to attend the leak. 

Acapulco sits on the opposite end of the spectrum. Perhaps Mexico’s most iconic tourist destination and coastal city is currently dealing with a severe water supply shortage. La Jornada Guerrero reports that residents from the city’s historical central neighborhoods are reporting regular cuts to water supply services that are severely impairing their ability to follow COVID-19 sanitary measures. The institutional response they have received from the Acapulco Water and Sewage Commission (CAPAMA) is to reduce consumption, claiming they have seen a 60 percent spike in water use. Citizens do not agree with these figures, since they claim being already limited in water sourcing and do not believe a 60 percent surge in water use is even possible. Meanwhile, the same residents have complained about the fact that more affluent hotels, businesses, apartment complexes and gated communities next to the shoreline have not reported cuts in their water supply. 

CAPAMA claims that it is working on fixing leaks both old and new and repairing ancient hydraulic infrastructure systems. However, the issue in Acapulco is that it lags logistically and lacks quick response to water leaks, which greatly contrasts with the quick turnaround that was seen in Mexico City. This demonstrates that COVID-19 shutdowns are laying bare Mexico’s need for the standardization of emergency repair logistics, particularly in the category of water supply.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
SACMEX, CONAGUA, Animal Político, MBN, La Jornada Guerrero
Photo by:   CONAGUA
Pedro Alcalá Pedro Alcalá Senior Journalist & Industry Analyst