Water Crisis @ Mexico City

Mexico City, with a population of 22 million people, grabs the title of the most populated cities of the United Mexican States. Annual water consumption here is 287 billion gallons. Apparently, there are some parts of the city where clean water is available 24 hours a day. Next, there are other parts of the city who are in very, very precarious water situations, mostly the low-income sections of Mexico City are now facing a situation where they open the tap, and no water comes out. 

Let’s board our time machine and travel back to 1521 to the burning city floating on lake Texcoco, Tenochtitlan, which was razed by spanish conquistadors led by Hernán Cortés, which marked the end of the Aztec empire. After the conquest, Spanish empire took over the city of Tenochtitlan. For subsequent years the city expanded at the cost of draining lake Texcoco. Soil dumped into the lagoon. Aqueducts broken. Water replaced by chunks of concrete. Eventually after years the 2000 sq.km area of the water body is replaced by a metropolitan area.

Sources of water

Mexico City is the same city which is developed over Tenochtitlan. This city rests on muddy soils of lake beds and is located in the valley. City’s majority of water requirements are fulfilled by 2 sources , Unfortunately it has no permanent river.  Cutzamala system, developed in 1976, An amazing feat of hydraulic engineering. This system pumps water up against the gravity for about 1300 meters and brings water to Mexico City from 120 Km away. Secondly, by far the vast majority of sources of water is groundwater, for this about 1800 wells are functioning. 

Sinking City

Due to the abuse of groundwater, the city is sinking. The city has sunk more than 10 meters since the last century. Moreover there are on average 150 leakages reported in the city per day, which sums up to the wastage of 40% of water at the rate of 1000 liters per second. 

So what is the actual problem?

Let’s understand the problem, 70% of the population receives water for a few hours a day and others on a weekly basis. As per data about 2.5 million people are affected by this problem, some of the homes in the city are not even connected to the main water grid. Even the quality of water being supplied is not appreciable, contamination of water takes place while flowing through the city’s water grid. Other issues being faced by the habitants are like a low share of wastewater treatment, health concerns related to the reuse of wastewater for agricultural works, flooding of the city. As the city is in a valley, flooding is quite common. To eliminate this problem, massive infrastructure is built to get the water out quickly when it rains, result, not enough water to recharge the aquifer below. With increasing population, there is a sharp increment in the daily water consumption. 

Water Trucks & Solutions by citizens 

Luckily, the Federal government of Mexico has taken some measures, trucks loaded with water are being circulated throughout the city but at uncertain times. Inhabitants have least expectancies from the government. People use animals to fetch water. Other solutions by people include buying expensive drinking water bottles. Few people opt for the purifiers, buy water from filter stores that fill your 5 gallon jug of water. 

Solution by social enterprise

Apart from this, a marvelous solution has been put forward by Enrique Lomnitz, general director of Isla Urbana;  a social enterprise dealing in installing RWH (Rain Water Harvesting) system on the roof-tops of the houses dealing with water scarcity. Annual rainfall in Mexico city is 700mm, this rainfall can eventually be used to provide a backup of 5-8 months of water during the rainy season. “Mexico City should be able to get at least 20-30% of its demand through rain water, this is indeed a significant, incredible amount of rain water”; so says Enrique Lomnitz. The solutions provided by Isla Urbana are so simple that one can even add new treatment systems to it so that you can get drinking water through your tap. As of now 20,000 systems have already been installed transforming the lives of 121,000 residents by capturing 800 million litres of water annually. 

Other solutions

Alberto Kalach, an architect by profession, is a part of the “Recovering the city of lakes” project and has put forward the plan to transform Mexico city to a modern version of what it was in the ancient times. This project even includes restoring and cleaning rivers. 

Manuel Frias, an industrial engineer by profession, has proposed an avant-grade project of constructing a dam 125 km south of the city. This dam is proposed to operate on geothermal energy by converting it into electric power to pump water. For this project Popocatepetl volcano is the perfect destination located just 4 km away from the proposed site. 

As a final note I would like to tell you, not only Mexico city, but even big cities like L.A, Cape town, São Paulo are affected by the water crisis. On June 19, 2019 Chennai city officials declared “Day Zero” as all the four main reservoirs supplying water to the city had run dry. At such times we as a community have to work together and focus on not only one or two but on each and every one of the cities facing acute water crisis or on the verge of facing. As of Mexico City we have Isla Urbana, architects like Alberto Kalach and projects involving green energy to solve the water crisis, but will there ever be any political will to take any concrete steps? That’s a question I leave up to you to answer. 


 City built on water is running out of it, Mexico cities troubled relationship with water, Mexico city is sinking , Water management in greater mexico city (Wikipedia), Population (Macrotrends) , Sinking cities(Weforum).

Image courtesy – Nytimes, Isla Urbana

Content Credits- Dharmik Shah

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