Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects to economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Veronica Held makes this connection in Mexico City, Mexico. This current event was reported in The New York Times on February 17, 2017 under the title “Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis” by Michael Kimmelman. This is likely real news based on The Guardian, a British national daily newspaper, providing an independent report on this current event validating the potable drinking water issues in Mexico.

Higher-income neighborhoods are fortunate enough to get cheap, government-subsidized tap water. Meanwhile, the poorest parts of the population have no plumbing and receive no water at all in their homes. Those who live beyond the reach of the city’s water pipes must buy water from trucks (called pipas) that distribute water out of a large hose at an even higher cost (Hollander, 2014). Access to potable water should be a fundamental human right yet increasingly barriers exist denying people access to a safe and secure drinking water supply. The current conditions in Mexico City directly related to water resources engineering because it exposes the infrastructural problems correlating to water scarcity. Relating to climate change, extreme weather and water scarcity are accelerating repression, regional conflicts, and violence (Kimmelman, 2017). From water, health, air pollution, traffic disruption from floods, housing vulnerability to landslides, the effect of climate change on an already unstable city will only heighten the existing tension. It is necessary to address these water related issues, which the article did not necessarily offer a resolve for. Inequity results in the city being unable to supply every resident with clean drinking water and Tanya Müller García, Mexico City’s secretary for the environment refuses to acknowledge this. The article mentions that there are some progressive plans underway that would increase accessibility to water.  However, the disconnect between local and federal officials undermines the possibility of serious improvement.

Figure 1. The sinking effect of urban sprawl experienced in Mexico City.

Figure 1. The sinking effect of urban sprawl experienced in Mexico City.

Mexico City’s economic, environmental, and societal issues are all causes and effects of the water crisis the city is experiencing. In terms of the economy, lower income families are especially impacted with an increase in water demand resulting in an increase in the cost of water. The lack of proper funding for WRE issues will continue to be a detriment to the growing population in need of water. Environmental issues were founded initially after the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs and began developing the land. Societal impacts are evident in the health and quality of life for lower-class citizens. Back then, the conquering Spaniards waged war against water, determined to subdue it. The Aztec system was foreign to them and they replaced the dikes and canals with streets and squares. They drained the lakes and cleared forestland, suffering flood after flood as consequence.  The Grand Canal, that was once supposed to solve the city’s flooding and sewage problems, today is working at only 30 percent of capacity because of subsidence. Developing land is an issue for the previously advantageous volcanic soil of the city (Figure 1). Buried beneath concrete and asphalt, rain is stopped from filtering down to the aquifers, causing floods and creating “heat islands” that raise temperatures and increase the demand for water. The warming climate will only increase the city’s problems with pollution, specifically ozone (Kimmelman, 2017). Heat waves mean health crises and increased health care costs for poor neighborhoods where air-conditioning isn’t commonplace. The health effects of contaminated water are clear to residents whose infants regularly break out in rashes and whose grandparents suffer colitis. Angry residents wait in lines overnight to plead with pipa drivers, who sometimes pit desperate families against one another, seeing who pays the bigger bribe. Poorer families must spend more than 10 percent of their income on water, enough to yield an insufficient 10 gallons per person per day. It becomes impossible for many poor women to work outside the home. Water becomes the center of women’s lives, waiting for hours to get water that doesn’t last a week. Ms. Josefina Ramírez Granillo states, “Sometimes there is violence. Women sell their spaces in the line. If you’re from the wrong political party, you don’t get water. You have to show your party affiliation, your voting ID (Kimmelman, 2017).” In an article titled “Discussion on Sustainable Water Technologies for Peri-Urban Areas of Mexico City: Balancing Urbanization and Environmental Conservation,” the discussion continues by proposing resource-oriented management of water, nutrients and energy that would require a sustainable system aimed at low resource use and high recovery and reuse rates. The cause-effect of Mexico City’s fleeting source of water due to aquifer depletion and urban sprawl is going to continue to affect their population until they find an alternative source/method to obtain their water.

References:

Hollander K. Mexico City: water torture on a grand and ludicrous scale. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/feb/05/mexico-city-water-torture-city-sewage. Published February 5, 2014.

Kimmelman M. Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/17/world/americas/mexico-city-sinking.html?_r=0. Published February 17, 2017.

Nanninga TA, Bisschops I, López E, et al. Discussion on Sustainable Water Technologies for Peri-Urban Areas of Mexico City: Balancing Urbanization and Environmental Conservation. Water. Published September 24, 2012; 4:739-758. doi:10.3390/w4030739 .

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