There is overconcession of water rights in Mexico, acknowledges Conagua

12/02/2021

The National Water Commission (Conagua) acknowledged that there is an overconcession of water rights in Mexico, due to the fact that under the current National Water Law, 517,000 licenses have been granted. From this volume, 70 percent is in the hands of only 2 percent of the permit holders.

In the country, there is a crisis of equity in all metropolitan areas and municipalities, since access to water flows to the economic power, i.e. to residential and industrial areas, while popular and marginal areas are left adrift. From the publication of the 1917 Constitution to 1992, only 2,000 concessions were granted. However, since 1992, under the National Water Law still in force, 517,000 concessions have been granted to date.

Most of these were granted before availability studies were conducted, so that once the permits were reviewed, they had already been exceeded. There is a record of 115 aquifers and 69 basins overconcessioned. Current legislation left the organization of water services to the states. This caused services to be granted under corrupt processes, affecting users with high and arbitrary rates and with the overexploitation of aquifers.

The current National Water Law promoted the commercialization of water and accelerated the process of monopolization of concessions, resulting in water being in the hands of a few. As a result, the water became a resource for inequality, environmental depredation, food dependence, deterioration of health, and systemic corruption in the sector.

There is a need for new legislation in this area. The citizens' initiative of Water for All, Water for Life has been built in a pluralistic manner and contains the basis for a new water policy that guarantees the human right to water and thus advance food sovereignty and the right to food.

It will be impossible to achieve access to drinking water if there is no progress in recovering the good condition of aquatic ecosystems, since 2.2 billion people do not have access to drinking water, not because of scarcity problems, but because the water available to them is contaminated.

The National Water Program and the Future of Water in Mexico

The National Water Commission (CONAGUA) recently published the National Water Program 2020-2024 (PNH), the main public policy instrument that establishes the objectives, strategies, and specific actions that this government will implement to manage water resources and address the complex water situation in our country, seeking to reduce inequity gaps and advance in water security.

This instrument also seeks to contribute to the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Environment and Natural Resources Sector Program, and, in turn, to the achievement of the National Development Plan 2019-2024, being also the guiding document for the Water Programs of the country's different basins. For its integration, 44 consultation forums were held, in which 2,900 people participated, in addition to regional forums organized by Semarnat.

Thus, the PNH reflects 5 major objectives, which have 20 priority strategies that, in turn, include public policy interventions through 87 specific actions, according to the following.

1. To progressively guarantee the human rights to water and sanitation, especially for the most vulnerable population.

2. Efficiently use water to contribute to the sustainable development of the productive sectors.

3. To reduce the vulnerability of the population to floods and droughts, with emphasis on indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples.

4. To preserve the integrity of the water cycle in order to guarantee the hydrological services provided by watersheds and aquifers.

5. Improve the conditions for water governance in order to strengthen decision-making and combat corruption.

We must recognize that the challenge is enormous. At the national level, only 58% of the country's population has water in their homes every day and has improved basic sanitation, and the rural areas are the most affected, with only 39%.

CONAGUA itself recognizes that there is a significant increase in the degree of pressure on water resources, particularly in the central and northern areas of the country, as well as a quantitative and qualitative deterioration of water in basins and aquifers, which show that of the 653 existing aquifers, 115 are overexploited, and of the 757 hydrological basins, in 69 the flow granted or assigned is greater than that of renewable water.

For its part, the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL) establishes that close to 12 million Mexicans live in extreme poverty, most of whom live in marginalized rural areas, that is, 1 out of every 12 Mexicans is in this situation, where access to water and sanitation is not a reality. The majority of this population must carry water to their homes, a task that is mainly carried out by women and children.

Added to this are the effects that climate change, year after year, increasingly affects water resources by affecting the hydrological cycle, mainly through floods and droughts, which affects entities that concentrate 62% of the population. CONAGUA points out that 24% of the country's municipalities register high and very high climate vulnerability.

All these data, together with the contamination of water bodies, unregulated urban growth, increased demand, lack of land use planning, and lack of awareness in the use and care of the resource, represent an alert on how these impacts also affect human health, the fight against poverty, food security, productive activities and energy production, and the health of ecosystems.

This has become even clearer and more evident in light of the pandemic we are facing, which has once again made clear the importance of water and the need for the entire population to have access to water in adequate quantity and quality for the care of their health.

This is why it is so important that the PNH is proposing the urgent need to establish the appropriate mechanisms that contribute to achieving the Human Right to Water and Sanitation for the entire population and, on the other hand, that water is definitively given the highest hierarchy in the country's public policies, given its cross-cutting and multi-sectoral scope.

It is equally important to emphasize, in this context, the need to preserve the integrity and health of ecosystems, as the main source of water resources and a guarantee of long-term water security for different uses, and to incorporate new management models such as nature-based solutions that complement traditional infrastructure.

The water security of the country and its different regions require urgent actions and merit in-depth decisions and solutions with a long-term perspective. Let us hope that the PNH will help to set us on this path, given that the social and economic development of the entire country depends to a great extent on it.