News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.

Yes, We Have No Water: Mexico City’s Water Mismanagement

500 years ago, you would have needed a boat to get around in this place. (Photo: Darren Popik)

By Fritz Schtickelmeyer

(SHERATON MARIA ISABEL HOTEL) — I don’t want to suggest that officials managing Mexico City’s water department are incompetent, but I’ll bet they have trouble tying their own shoes.

For the second day in a row, I awoke this morning with no water in my Condesa apartment.

As anyone who’s lived in the DF for some time will know, this is not an isolated incident. It happens regularly. It happens to my friends in the Condesa, Roma, Del Valle, and countless other colonias in this metropolis.

I can usually count on some brilliant people at the Sistema de Aguas de la Ciudad de Mexico (SACM, the city agency in charge of water supply) to turn the water off when it’s a long weekend. And on random other occasions, generally with no explanation or warning whatsoever. (Occasionally, I have seen a brief mention of a coming cut in water somewhere buried in a newspaper. But that’s rare, and generally hard to find.)

One of the more bizarre aspects to this problem is the seeming spottiness about it. Today, I have no water; friends who live a couple blocks away, however, do have water. And vice-versa.

Sometimes a pipa (tanker truck) will come by to resupply us with water. But not yesterday, and not today.

What I’d like to do today, is to go turn off the water at the home of the water department bureaucrat who decided to turn the water off in my building. Let’s see how they like that.

No water = restrooms out of service.

No water = restrooms out of service.

It Affects Businesses Too

There have been more than a few occasions when I’ve walked into my neighborhood café in the morning, only to be told that they can only sell me bottled beverages, due to their lack of water.

Imagine … a coffee shop having no water. How are they supposed to make those fancy coffees they specialize in? Well, they can’t. And their revenues plummet, because most customers just leave. (Worse still is when I do get a beverage, but then discover that their restrooms are “out of order”, due to the lack of water – see photo at right.)

This is not acceptable in a world-class cosmopolitan city, as Mexico City is. This is a city with extensive Wi-Fi coverage, plenty of luxury vehicles, fancy homes, fine dining, and all the shopping and culture you could want.

In short, this is not Africa, where first-world aspirations are far from reality.

500 Years of Water Mismanagement

Yes, Mexico City now sits on this former lakebed.

I don’t question that there are issues facing Mexico City’s water supply today. But the fact is, the water in the valley of Mexico has been mismanaged from the arrival of Cortes in 1519.

It’s ironic — and hard to envision — that the very land this giant metropolis sits on used to be a giant lake.

The Spaniards busied themselves for the first few hundred years here trying to get rid of the water. They built canals and tunnels to drain this water that was interfering with development in their new city.

It was no small feat to do this; Mexico City is located in what is essentially a bowl-shaped valley, surrounded by mountains on all sides. There is no natural drainage outlet for the city. (Thus, it’s not surprising that when nature was left to take its course, that it would create a giant lake in this area.)

But as the city’s growth really began to take off in more recent times, the problem became providing enough water to the booming population.

No doubt, providing water to over 20 million people in the greater Mexico City area is an enormous — and complex — task. I don’t question that.

But I do question how much sheer incompetence and mismanagement have contributed to the problem we have today.

The complexity of Mexico City’s water system, and the myriad of problems involved, would take considerable time and space to adequately describe.

But I’m hungry, and I’m going for lunch now, so I’ll leave that to another day.

For now, all I really want to say to the people in charge of our water supply is this: Either turn my water back on, or I’m gonna leave you where I find you.

I don’t care why I have no water. I just want it back, and I want it now.

About Fritz Schtickelmeyer

A veteran journalist, he's reported from across the globe. For a brief time, was a high school teacher in Minnesota.

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This entry was posted on November 29, 2012 by in Commentary, politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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