North America’s Biggest City Faces a Water Crisis

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Mexico City, home to 22 million people, is grappling with a severe water crisis. The reservoirs and underground wells that supply the city are drying up due to low rainfall, rising temperatures, and outdated infrastructure. As a result, only a fraction of the city’s residents have continuous access to water throughout the year.

The situation is dire. The Cutzamala water system, which provides over 20 percent of Mexico City’s usable water, is running out. Oscar Ocampo, a public policy researcher, warns that if rain doesn’t arrive soon, these reservoirs will be depleted by the end of June. Some households already receive unusably contaminated water, while others receive none at all. The inequities in water distribution are exacerbating tensions.

To cope, Mexico City is increasingly relying on underground aquifers, but this practice is unsustainable without replenishment and leads to ground subsidence. The city sinks at a rate of almost five inches per year due to excessive groundwater extraction.

While specific factors contribute to Mexico City’s crisis, the broader issue is universal. Other cities, such as Bogotá, Colombia, and Cape Town, South Africa, have faced similar challenges. The causes include climate change, rapid urban development, and mismanagement.

Immediate Solutions

  1. Water Conservation: Encouraging residents to use less water is crucial. The best cities worldwide achieve water use as low as 25 gallons per capita per day, compared to 100 gallons in typical US cities.
  2. Wastewater Recycling: Implementing better wastewater recycling systems can create a circular economy. Industries must pay for wastewater treatment, promoting responsible water use.
  3. Fixing Leaky Pipes: Addressing leaky infrastructure is essential. In Mexico City, approximately 40 percent of water is lost due to leaks.
  4. Urban Planning: Protecting natural environments that recharge aquifers and using permeable materials in construction can help manage water sustainably.

Long-Term Challenges

  • Urbanization: As cities grow, water scarcity becomes more pronounced. Day Zero—the complete loss of fresh water at taps—is a daily reality for many urban residents worldwide.
  • Climate Change: Higher temperatures increase water demand, affecting both agriculture and electricity generation. Climate change exacerbates existing challenges.

In conclusion, managing water effectively requires political will and investment. Just as countries prioritize universal education, water and sanitation should be treated as public health and human rights issues. There must be a collective commitment to sustainable water management.

Source: VOX