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A sign of shortages to come

Scattered around our apartment our buckets and pails of water. We’ve learned the hard way about the intermittent water shortages afflicting some areas of Mexico City in the past three weeks.

We awoke this morning to find water gone. I went to the gym anyway. Water was still out when I got back. So I spent the next four hours in my sweaty clothes thanking my lucky stars I had no business outside to attend to.

We got water but only because we had to buy it. That is big business in Mexico City. It is common to see water tanker trucks backed up to buildings, selling tankfuls of water. We had to pay 300 pesos, which is $25. Who knows how long it will last.

I don’t know how widespread this outage is -- perhaps just a few blocks around our building. But it could be bigger.

Over Holy Week, 13 entire districts of the city (think millions of people) had water cut off for 55 hours for some sort of maintenance. My Swedish friend had his sister’s family visiting. They arrived from the beach to discover they were crowded in his apartment without water. One day. Two days. It gets unpleasant fast. Think about not being able to flush toilets.

Who knows how regularly this inconvenience will occur. But it’s hard not to see the outages as a sign of things to come. After all, Mexico City faces huge shortages of water in the future as the aquifer is depleted.

Click here for a Public Radio International piece on how some families are turning to “rain-water harvesting” to cope with shortages. Earlier this year, city water officials announced a newfound aquifer about a mile deep that may stave off a crisis, at least in part of the city. Overuse of the existing aquifer is casing Mexico City to sink. Here’s a story I once wrote about buildings that settle and list because of the sinking.


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A mile deep aquafer? Do you have any idea how much energy (= money)it takes to pump water a mile straight up? This might solve the problem for the very wealthiest citizens, but I doubt they are the ones suffering from the shortages.

Catchment is the solution - every inch of roof in Mexico City should be catching rainwater for toilets, bathing, and other non-potable uses. The burden this would take off the aquafer in the summer might be enough to allow sufficient recharge to get through the winter - and even a centimeter of rain in the winter provides a significant amount when captured off the entire roof.

Tim J

Reader Bob, sorry you see this as whining. I, in fact, have lots of Third World experience, having lived 30 years in seven countries in Asia and Latin America. If your tinaco o cisterna goes empty for any number of reasons and it is filled by electric pump, they you will be out of water. If you came to Mexico City, you would hear a lot of complaints about this. Sorry but human are not able to live very long without a steady supply of water.

bob swayne

poor gringo
mexico has had problems with water for decades. why do you think people have tanks and cisternas. who told you to live in a high rise? you are in the third world. we live where there is plentiful water and still everyone has a tinanco and a cisterna. poor and rich alike. stop whinin and adjust to reality. as i understand the new aquafier is where industry has been dumping toxic waste for decadees. goodbye citizens. canta y aguanta, aclimatar o aclimorir
do enjoy your articles

pink schnoid

it seems like the entire planet is on the verge of de-railing...Mexico is like a car with wobbly wheels that keeps trucking without falling off, but it seems inevitable that they wheels will fall off....damn catholics and their breeding policy...overpopulation and under-education

I live in a semi nice touristy area of my city, so there is always water (such as it is)...they ALWAYS take water from the poor neighborhoods but never from the rich ones...water is very much a shady biz a la the movie Chinatown

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This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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