OAKLAND, California — The Mexico City water crisis is worsening. The city gets a lot of rain, but still, only “one in five people have access to only a few hours of running water from their taps a week and 20% have running water for part of the day.” Mexico City is one of 11 cities “predicted to reach Day Zero, or the day when the water runs dry.”
Reduced Rainfall and the Water Crisis
The rising temperatures and droughts require the city to turn to its aquifers and distant reservoirs to support the demands of its large population. During 2020, the reduced rainfall caused many people’s tap water to shut off. These citizens then became reliant on water trucks and cisterns for their daily drinking water supply. These trucks, however, produce disparities between lower and higher-income areas. Those who are able to pay for water trucks continue to have a more constant supply of water, whereas those who have to rely on the government’s supply do not. A resident of the Ecatepec in the northeast part of the city told the Global Center on Adaptation that “tap water arrives only once every few weeks when residents fill up cisterns and buckets to minimize their spending on water trucks”
At the start of 2021, reservoirs in the Cutzamala system provided water to meet one-fourth of the city’s needs, but due to lower rainfall, by November of the same year, the system was almost 18% below its normal levels, Global Center on Adaption reports. According to researchers, the overall water supply in the city could fall between 10% to 17% by 2050. In addition, more than half of Mexico City’s water currently comes from underground aquifers. This, however, is causing the city to rapidly sink.
Currently, there are 25 funds working to fight the Mexico City water crisis, including Mexico City’s Water Fund, that “will help address the overexploitation of aquifers, use smart infrastructure to protect and restore groundwater recharge zones, promote efficient water use, develop new nature-based solutions, and foster investment and innovation for the treatment and reuse of wastewater.” There is one organization, in particular, however, that has come up with an inventive way to face the crisis head-on.
Isla Urbana is a non-profit organization fighting for clean and sustainable water in Mexico City. The organization designed an “environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable rainwater harvesting system that collects and cleans rainwater for households, schools and health clinics.” This design has the potential to provide 12 million Mexicans with a sustainable water source and clean drinking water.
Furthermore, although there is less rainfall than usual, Mexico City still experiences floods. These floods are a result of oversaturation in the city’s drainage system. A rainwater capture system will reduce flooding in the city in addition to providing clean drinking water to millions of people.
In an interview with The Borgen Project, Communications Director Nabani Vera illuminates how the distribution of drinking water in Mexico City does not support its low-income communities. “The problem of lack of access to water is directly related to the level of marginalization where the population lives”, said Vera. “The drinking water distribution network in Mexico City does not cover the most marginal and high areas of the city, precisely where the families with the fewest resources are located, and which can only access water through the pipes that the local governments grant or by paying high costs. Therefore, it is the population that has less access to the resource who pays the most for it.”
Isla Urbana addresses this disparity by filling the high demand for water within the population that does not have the income or resources to pay for an expensive water pipe and doing so in a sustainable way that does not require using more natural resources. In addition, the captivation system is highly durable. “Although each of the components is made of different materials, it could be averaged that the system reaches over 20 years of duration,” said Vera. “The maintenance it requires only involves cleaning or draining the different components. The only element that must be recharged is the chlorine float dispenser, which is filled with calcium hypochlorite tablets or can be replaced with liquid chlorine.”
Isla Urbana serves families in urban and rural areas. The only difference between captivation systems in rural areas versus urban environments is the number of filters it possesses. Since the water in the city is more polluted than the water in rural areas, the ones in the city require more filtration. Furthermore, Isla Urbana’s program “Escuelas de Lluvia” not only brings clean drinking water to schools but also educates students through environmental workshops about the water and its culture in Mexico City.
Solving the Crisis
The Mexico City water crisis is extremely urgent. Millions of people lack access to clean drinking water and the distribution of the water it does have is inequitable. Isla Urbana’s water captivation system has the capacity to slow the crisis immeasurably. Rural areas that are brought water at sparse intervals can now experience convenience and reliability for a basic human need. The organization has restored a focus on education in schools where children should not be concerned with water for drinking and sanitation purposes.
– Jordan Oh