The Future Of Water

I watched a Horizon documentary on my bus back from Merida, by David Attenborough, all about how many people the planet can sustain. Tens of billions of Indians, or about a billion and a half Americans. Apparently. It’s a resources thing. Mexico City featured in the show, due to the chronic water shortages here – I have mentioned this before one or ten times, I’m sure. It was a good watch anyway – you can grab the episode here if you are familiar with Bit Torrents.

The water situation has become dire in Mexico City. There are posters and other awareness campaigns all over the place, warning that the current rate of consumption, after some fairly dry rainy seasons recently, will exhaust the reservoirs.  It has to be said, the water problem in DF isn’t simply a matter of people wasting the stuff – most people I know are fairly careful. It’s also a matter of the terrible management of supplies and recycling. Little to no investment in  infrastructure for decades never ends well.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

There is also this report, showing how serious the situation is, and how the government intends to tackle the problem in the short term – price increases. Although it has to be said the increases still add up to a fairly meagre amount. I know that I pay substantially less in Distrito Federal than those who live in the Estado de Mexico pay, thanks to generous subsidies.  But if I got a constant supply for my money, I also know I’d pay plenty more than they do.  Having your water cut off for hours, occasionally even days, at a time is not nice.

Valle de Bravo, Mexico  – Lake Avandaro has long been the emblem of leisure in this wealthy, colonial town west of Mexico City, but the capital sucked it half-dry last spring.

Ever thirstier, Mexico City diverted tonnes of water from the lake to the capital, putting the quaint village of Valle de Bravo in jeopardy as a popular weekend vacation spot for the rich.

Water skiers and boaters had to dodge emerging rocks as the lake level dropped to half its normal volume.

“I was born here and I have never seen it at that level,” said Carlos Gonzalez, 33, manager of the floating Los Pericos restaurant that was in danger of resting on the lakebed just a few months ago.

Mexico City, one of the world’s biggest cities at 20 million people, has long struggled with a lack of water but the crisis worsened last year due to drought that has left reservoirs at record lows.

8 thoughts on “The Future Of Water

  1. I wish I had a useful comment to make for this blog post. Some interesting statistic or fact. News of immediate projects being put in place to improve the current infrastructure and salvage what’s left. Alas, it just makes me want to put on my chicken suit and go screaming in circles. That’s probably part of the problem, as people either ignore the issue and pretend nothing’s wrong, or they believe the sky is falling and they can’t do anything.

    Gary, not sure if you or Angeline saw my comment from yesterday, since I just realized its terribly nestled in between all the other comments. When you get the chance do email me to let me know your address, so when I find an adequate NY card I can send it off to you.

    Keep on blogging!

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  2. P.S

    Just remembered that in previous years when I’ve briefly visited my grandmother I’d always get exasperated after she’d routinely call for me to QUICKLY go water the plants, before the water disappeared for the rest of the day. I was an ignorant little teenage girl then and I can remember not understanding this peculiar issue about the water. I thought it was just one of those “weird Mexico thing’s” that I never really questioned. The water would seemingly “turn on” at random times of the day and you had to quickly use it before it went out. I did find out about the water issues years later though. Your post only reminds me about how unlikely it is to change any day this year.

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  3. As someone who grew up in California during the great drought of the 1970’s, I find Mexico City’s flagrant waste of water nothing short of shocking. Hotels have showerheads that spray insane amounts of water. I recently went to a spa in El Centro where their showerheads would put those of the hotels to shame. The only place I’ve ever seen a water-saving urinal or toilet was in “La Buena Tierra” restaurant in Condesa, and it’s a place for organic-fed do-gooders. According to F, if you don’t pay your water bill in DF, nothing happens. In fact, I think many houses don’t even have water meters.

    So what’s the incentive to conserve? Aside from whiny posters on the metro, nada.

    This is the problem with the whole attitude that says you can’t charge people a market rate for essential services. When you under-price scarce resources, people have no incentive to conserve them. And while government diktat can create an artificially low price for water, it can’t create more water.

    Some day, sooner or later, DF and EdoMex will have to install meters and charge people a market-clearing price for water. This means they will have to charge enough that people want to conserve it. And places like hotels and other commercial users probably ought to pay a higher rate. Those users are savvy enough to calculate the benefits of saving water.

    With the proceeds of a properly metered and priced system, the government can then improve the system. Incentives for people to switch to water-saving showerheads (one of the cheapest fixes known), and water-saving toilets would be a good next step. A public-awareness campaign for these things in concert with the rate hike would be a good program.

    Also, given the torrential rains in Mexico City (at least during the rainy season) it’d be great to give people an incentive to store that in tanks. Even if it only provided some relief on the system during the rainy season, that would allow the reservoirs to fill for the dry season.

    But under-pricing water and then rationing it by just switching it off at random times? Lunacy. And it won’t work.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where despite 52 inches of rain a year, we are still not permitted full-flow showerheads.

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    1. All good points and they bring a couple of mine to mind, including a stat that Nez wanted to think of, but couldn’t. Mexico City recycles just 10% of its water. Compare that to London, which is slated for it’s poor rate of recycling in Europe – despite recycling 90%.

      There is logic in charging for water, but I can see a few issues. Firstly, the beauracracy would cost a fortune itself. Secondly, who are you going to charge what, given the disparity of income. Thirdly, are you really going to cut off the water supply to the poorest communities who will invariably be the ones who default? And who will equally invariably go out and tap into someone else’s supply…you’ve no doubt seen how the street stalls selling tacos get their electricity!

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      1. Good point, and I’ve certainly heard about the “diablitos,” e.g., the illegal power connections. It’d be a much harder trick with water, though, given that the pipes are under ground.

        As for the bureaucracy, if it were efficiently run, it shouldn’t be all that expensive. And surely there must be some existing bureaucracy to build upon.

        As for cutting off poor people, see my comment above. Government fiat can’t create more water. Everyone (especially the poor, given their numbers) needs to conserve water. But creating some kind of tiered pricing system whereby a minimal amount of water was cheap seems to make sense, and would spare the poor to the extent possible. I believe the CFE already has such an arrangement in place for electricity. And no, I don’t think whole communities should be cut off, just those who don’t pay their bills. I believe this already happens with electricity in Mexico, without regard to income.

        And free low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators would go a long way toward placating the poor. And would likely save them money on the cost of heating water too.

        I watched the video, and have to say that a 40-peso annual water bill is nothing short of ridiculous, given water’s scarcity. I know it’s not at all comparable, as we are paying for a long and expensive bay cleanup with our water bills, but in Boston my water bill is about $60 USD per month. And that’s for a house with a single guy who sends out about a third of his laundry, and does precious little watering outside.

        Water is crucial, and in limited supply. Everyone will have to bear some pain to solve the problem. This is an inescapable truth. By using the pricing system, water supply can be increased and demand reduced. And it can be mathematically proven that this will create the most efficient outcome.

        The current system is just not working, as service is continually interrupted. So a proven system needs to be adopted before the city completely runs out of water.

        Saludos,

        Kim G
        Boston, MA

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      2. It would be a harder trick with the water pipes, but Mexicans are an ingenious lot sometimes, and masters of improvisation…..have you ever seen them attend broken down cars or trucks?!

        I can’t say I disagree with any principle in your comment, but would add one thing. The very poorest are already perhaps the most efficient conservers of water, not least because their supply is the most erratic, with some areas measuring their supply in hours per week, not days. And these would be the ones cut off first.

        There are no easy solutions. But the meagre increases, as you say, are not the way to go.

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