In Mexico City it could only be a few months

In Mexico City, it could only be a few months before the water runs out

Mexico City CNN –

Alejandro Gomez has not had running water for more than three months. Sometimes it lasts an hour or two, but only a small trickle, barely enough to fill a few buckets. Then nothing for days.

Gomez, who lives in Mexico City's Tlalpan district, does not have a large storage tank and therefore cannot receive deliveries from watercraft – there is simply no place to store water. Instead, he and his family grab what they can buy and store.

When they wash, they catch the drain to flush the toilet. It's hard, he told CNN. “We need water, it is vital for everything.”

Water shortages are not uncommon in this neighborhood, but this time it feels different, Gomez said. “Right now we have this hot weather. It’s worse, things are more complicated.”

Mexico City, a sprawling metropolis of nearly 22 million people and one of the world's largest cities, is facing a severe water crisis as a range of problems – including geography, chaotic urban development and leaky infrastructure – are exacerbated by the effects of climate change become.

Years of unusually low rainfall, extended dry spells and high temperatures have placed additional strain on a water system already strained to cope with increased demand. Authorities were forced to introduce significant restrictions on water pumped from reservoirs.

“Several neighborhoods have been suffering from water shortages for weeks, and there are still four months left before it starts raining,” said Christian Domínguez Sarmiento, an atmospheric scientist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

Politicians downplay any sense of crisis, but Some experts say the situation has now reached such critical levels that Mexico City could be heading to “Day Zero” – when taps will run dry in much of the city – in just a few months.

03:33 – Source: CNN

Mexico City is facing unprecedented water shortages and could run out in a few months

Densely populated Mexico City sprawls across a high lakebed, about 7,300 feet above sea level. It was built on clayey soil – into which it is now sinking – and is vulnerable to earthquakes and highly vulnerable to climate change. It is perhaps one of the last places where anyone would choose to build a megacity today.

The Aztecs chose this location to build their city of Tenochtitlan in 1325, when it was a series of lakes. They built on an island, expanded the city outward, and constructed networks of canals and bridges to work with the water.

But when the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century, they demolished large parts of the city, drained the lakeshore, filled in canals and cleared forests. They saw “water as an enemy that must be overcome for the city to thrive,” said Jose Alfredo Ramirez, architect and co-director of Groundlab, a design and policy research organization.

Cesar Rodriguez/Bloomberg/Getty Images

An aerial view of Mexico City, one of the world's largest megacities.

Their decision paved the way for many modern buildings in Mexico City problems. Wetlands and rivers have been replaced with concrete and asphalt. Floods occur in the rainy season. In the dry season it is parched.

About 60% of Mexico City's water comes from the underground aquifer, but it has been so overextracted that the city is sinking at an alarming rate – about 20 inches per year, according to recent research. And the aquifer isn't being replenished nearly fast enough. Rainwater rolls off the city's hard, impermeable surfaces instead of sinking into the ground.

The rest of the city's water is pumped long distances uphill from sources outside the city, a highly inefficient process that results in about 40% of the water being lost Leaks.

The Cutzamala Water System, a network of reservoirs, pumping stations, canals and tunnels, supplies about 25% of the water used by the Valley of Mexico, which includes Mexico City. But the severe drought took its toll. It is currently at a historic low of around 39% of capacity.

“This is almost half the amount of water we should have,” said Fabiola Sosa-Rodríguez, head of economic growth and the environment at the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City.

In October, Conagua, the country's national water commission, announced that it would limit the amount of water from Cutzamala by 8% “to ensure the supply of drinking water to the population in the face of severe drought.”

Just weeks later, authorities significantly tightened restrictions and reduced the system's water supply by nearly 25%, citing extreme weather conditions.

“Measures must be taken to be able to distribute the water that Cutzamala has over time to ensure that it does not run out,” Germán Arturo Martínez Santoyo, the general director of Conagua, said in a statement at the time.

Raquel Cunha/Portal

The exposed banks of the Villa Victoria Dam, part of the Cutzamala System, in Villa Victoria, Mexico, on January 26, 2024.

A February report found that around 60% of Mexico is experiencing moderate to exceptional drought. Nearly 90% of Mexico City is suffering from severe drought – and it's set to get worse with the start of the rainy season still months away.

“We are about halfway through the dry season and temperatures are expected to continue rising until April or May,” said June Garcia-Becerra, an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Northern British Columbia.

This part of Mexico is strongly affected by natural climate fluctuations. Three years of La Niña brought drought to the region, and then the arrival of El Niño last year made for a painfully short rainy season It was not possible to refill the reservoirs.

But humming in the background is the long-term trend of human-caused global warming, leading to longer droughts and more intense heat waves, as well as heavier rains when they occur.

“Climate change has made droughts increasingly worse due to water shortages,” UNAM’s Sarmiento said. In addition, high temperatures have “evaporated the water available in the Cutzamala system,” she said.

Last summer, large parts of the country were hit by brutal heatwaves that claimed at least 200 lives. According to an analysis by scientists, these heat waves would have been “almost impossible” without climate change.

The Climate impacts collided with the growing pains of a rapidly growing city. As the population is booming, Experts | say The central water system has not kept pace.

The crisis has sparked fierce debate over whether the city will reach a “day zero,” when the Cutzamala system will sink to such low levels that it will no longer be able to provide water to the city's residents take care of.

Local media widely reported in early February that an official at a branch in Conagua said that without significant rain, “Day Zero” could come as early as June 26.

However, authorities have since tried to reassure residents that there will be no day zero. In one press conference on February 14, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that work was underway to resolve the water problems. The mayor of Mexico City, Martí Batres Guadarrama said in a recent press conference that the reports from Day Zero were “fake news” spread by political opponents.

Conagua declined interview requests from CNN and did not answer specific questions about the prospect of Day Zero.

But many experts warn of a crisis spiral. Mexico City could run out of water before the rainy season arrives if it continues to be used in the same way, Sosa-Rodríguez said. “It is likely that we are facing a day zero,” she added.

Henry Romero/Portal

A woman washes dishes in her home after receiving free water distribution in the Iztapalapa neighborhood on January 31, 2024.

This does not mean the total collapse of the water system, as the city does not rely on just one source, she said. It won't be the same as it was back then Cape Town, South Africa, came dangerously close to drying out completely in 2018 after a severe multi-year drought. “Some groups will still have water,” she said, “but most people won’t have it.”

Raúl Rodríguez Márquez, president of the nonprofit Water Advisory Council, said he doesn't think the city will reach day zero this year — but he warned that it will if changes aren't made.

“We are in a critical situation and could reach an extreme situation in the next few months,” he told CNN.

For nearly a decade, Sosa-Rodríguez has been warning authorities about the danger of a “Day Zero” for Mexico City.

She said the solutions were clear: better wastewater treatment would both increase water availability and reduce pollution, while rainwater harvesting systems could capture and treat rain, allowing residents to reduce their dependence on the water network or watercraft by 30%.

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Eliminating leaks would make the system significantly more efficient and reduce the amount of water that needs to be extracted from the aquifer. And nature-based solutions, such as restoring rivers and wetlands, would help provide and purify water, with the added benefit of greening and cooling the city.

In a statement on its website, Conagua said it is implementing a three-year project to install, develop and improve water infrastructure to help the city address declines in the Cutzamala system, including the construction of new wells and the commissioning of water treatment plants.

But in the meantime, tensions are rising as some residents struggle with shortages while others – often in wealthier enclaves – are largely spared.

“There is clearly unequal access to water in the city and that is linked to people’s income,” Sosa-Rodríguez said. While Day Zero may not be here for all of Mexico City yet, some neighborhoods have been struggling with it for years, she added.

Amanda Martínez, another resident of the Tlalpan municipality, said water shortages are nothing new for people here. She and her family often have to pay more than $100 for a tank of water from one of the city's water trucks. But it's getting worse and worse. Sometimes more than two weeks go by without water and she fears what might come, she told CNN.

“I don’t think anyone is prepared.”

CNN's Laura Paddison and Jack Guy reported from London and Fidel Gutiérrez reported from Mexico City.