Mexico City is on the verge of a water crisis that could leave many areas of the city without water in months.

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The megacity and its surroundings, where about 22 million people live, has been experiencing drought from moderate to extreme since early 2024. To save water, officials have limited access for many residents to an hour or so of water every few days.

A mix of factors — such as less rainfall, higher temperatures, faulty infrastructure and urban growth — are putting more pressure on the city’s water supply. Experts have warned that without drastic actions a “day zero,” where water services collapse completely across the city, could be just months away.

“We’re taking out water at twice the rate that the aquifer refills. This is causing damage to infrastructure, effects on the water system and land sinking,” Jorge Alberto Arriaga, the coordinator of the water network for the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Spanish newspaper El Pais.

About 60% of Mexico City’s water comes from an underground aquifer and the rest is pumped uphill from outside the city. But the aquifer has been overused, making the land sink at a rate of around 20 inches (51 centimeters) per year since 1950.

The pumped water, meanwhile, is prone to leaks, with 40% of it getting lost on the way. And as much of the ground that used to be permeable is now covered in concrete, the water doesn’t necessarily go back into aquifers.

According to Reuters, the largest of these systems, the Cutzamala System, was pumping only 39.7% of its full capacity at the end of January. This is a drop from 41% in December, and a sharp fall from 54% in January 2023.

The city’s situation is worsened by its geography and history. Located at high-altitude, it was once the site for the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan — a city built on an island on Lake Texcoco and expanded outward through a clever network of canals, bridges and artificial islands.

After conquering Tenochtitlan in 1521, the Spanish destroyed the city and drained its lake, founding Mexico City on the soft, clay-rich soil of the lake bed. The result is a metropolis vulnerable to both earthquakes and, from the destruction of its natural water cycle, droughts.

These droughts have been getting longer and worse, partly because of climate change and also because of this year’s El Niño climate pattern (which has raised temperatures in the region and across Latin America).

To solve the problem, officials have said they will start to drill for more wells around the city and improve wastewater treatment to make sure all residents get enough water.

It remains to be seen if these efforts will prevent “day zero”, or if it has already started to happen.

“We have to think that ‘day zero’ is now, because the rivers are polluted, the springs are overused, this is what we have to understand,” José Antonio Rodríguez Tirado, a water management consultant who advised Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies on the crisis, told Forbes Mexico.

With the monsoon season not expected to arrive until May or June, residents have some time yet until there is some relief.

Source: Live Science