Mexico's Water Crisis Deepens, Calling for Paradigm Shift

Discover Mexico's water crisis with 60% contaminated bodies of water, overexploited aquifers, and a loss of vegetation cover. Join the call for a paradigm shift towards water security, as experts emphasize the need for sustainable policies, infrastructure, and efficient resource management.

Mexico's Water Crisis Deepens, Calling for Paradigm Shift
Fernando González Villarreal, UNAM Water Network coordinator, highlights Mexico's water crisis. Image by Bonnie Henderson from Pixabay

In Mexico, we are undoubtedly facing a water crisis: 60 percent of bodies of water have some degree of contamination, 157 aquifers are overexploited, and 50 percent of the territory has lost its original vegetation cover. This, plus climate change, pose a scenario of alteration of the hydrological system, warned Fernando González Villarreal.

The technical coordinator of the UNAM Water Network and director of the Regional Center for Water Security under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that 71 percent of the territory has a high or very high degree of water pressure, which means that new demands can no longer be met, and 106 municipalities are highly vulnerable to droughts.

Given this reality, he said, a paradigm shift is needed to evolve towards the search for water security, where access to drinking water is guaranteed in quantity and quality at a fair price; water resources for ecosystems are ensured; adequate supply for productive activities is promoted; and even in the face of extreme meteorological phenomena, this is achieved.

While giving the conference "Perspectivas del agua en México: ¿Crisis hídrica?", organized by the Seminario Universitario de la Cuestión Social (SUCS), the university expert reiterated that in Mexico, 72 percent of the rainfall is concentrated in four months (from June to September).

In addition, there is great hydrological variability. If we were to build a pool in Mexicali, the water would typically be five centimeters deep, but near Tabasco, it would be four meters deep. This poses a great difference in terms of the availability of the vital liquid; in addition, there are years of abundant rainfall and others of prolonged droughts.

Where we have water, economic activity is lower; only 23 percent of the population is located there. On the other hand, the remaining 77 percent is where the availability of the resource is scarce, explained the first general director of the National Water Commission and founding president of the Mexican Institute of Water Technology.

In addition to the almost doubling of the population since 1977, when the United Nations Water Conference was held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in less than 50 years the country went from rural to urban, with 79 percent of the population living in cities.

Of this total, two-thirds are concentrated in 74 metropolitan areas, he explained to the vice president of the UNAM Board of Trustees and technical secretary of SUCS, Mario Luis Fuentes Alcalá, and the coordinator of the University Program for Development Studies, Enrique Provencio Durazo.

González Villarreal explained that the demands for the liquid are multiple: 76 percent of consumption is for agriculture, an area that requires changes for more efficient use of the resource; 15 percent is for urban public use; 5 percent is for industry, commerce, and services; and 4 percent is for energy generation. "Water for the ecological environment is not represented by a specific user".

Added to the complex panorama are international phenomena such as the COVID pandemic, when domestic consumption went up and people who became unemployed stopped paying for the service. "We are in a great crisis, and we have not come out of it." There is also increased occupation of natural areas, such as flood plains and wetlands, and a sustained reduction of public and private investment dedicated to water problems, plus the intensification of climate change.

Given this, Fernando González stated that good public policies and infrastructure built rationally, respecting the environment, and solving social problems, are required.

Likewise, emphasis should be placed on the evaluation of water resources (meteorological stations, water quality measurement, etc.) through the hydrological cycle, he said.

In 1977, recommendations were established, such as increasing the efficiency with which it is used, adjusting rates, recycling the liquid, or making agricultural production more efficient by technifying irrigation. It was also pointed out that contamination of water bodies was a growing problem and that more monitoring networks were required. "Then there was talk of avoiding food waste because it is estimated that one-third is thrown away; however, the mechanisms to avoid this have not been designed," he emphasized.

Improving the efficiency with which the vital liquid is used "is up to all of us, by avoiding leaks in homes or shortening time in the shower"; increasing availability based on the increase in demand through infrastructure (wastewater treatment, storage, etc.); reuse; strengthening the water financial system, including the fees paid by users for the extraction of the resource; improving governance or compliance with laws; as well as capacity building and promoting innovation.

In the session, Marisa Mazari Hiriart, coordinator of the University Seminar on Society, Environment, and Institutions, in commenting on the conference, agreed that the problem concerns us all and will be more serious for the following generations.

It is concerning that Mexicans do not appear to view this as a crisis—not a future one, but one in which we are already involved. It is a concern that dates back at least 50 years, and "the situation is not only not improving, it is getting worse," he added.

There is a problem with water quantity and quality and their consequent health effects. We are living in a stage of greater uncertainty in this matter, and a medium- and long-term vision is required that takes into account what we are inheriting, he concluded.