Water in Mexico, the last opportunity


Water supply management is at a critical point. It requires 100% more infrastructure and the definition of a public policy that guarantees access and long-term sanitation.

Amanda Solís Tapia

Editor’s Note: This content was originally published in the Impossible Roads edition of the Works Magazine, corresponding to May 2019.

As an apocalypse, psychosis spread throughout Mexico City towards the end of October 2018. The mere idea that water would be lacking for a week due to maintenance work on the Cutzamala system resulted in the purchase of thousands of containers for storage. water and suffer, as little as possible, the shortage announced.

The work took longer than expected and was unsuccessful. In the end, the water supply returned. But the plan to have redundancy in the two supply lines of the system that supplies the Valley of Mexico remained in the air, and with it, the guarantee of uninterrupted supply.

At the end of last February, the head of the capital government, Claudia Sheinbaum, acknowledged: “We have serious problems that have to do with the maintenance of the great works that were done many years ago. (…) From the indispensable maintenance that requires the Cutzamala system until deep maintenance of the metropolitan area. “

Even if they are correct, as our country has the largest installed capacity for the treatment of municipal wastewater in Latin America (181.15 m3 / s) or that 95.3% of the population has access to piped water, there are large slopes in modernization and infrastructure conservation, financing, regulatory and institutional framework, water quality and liquid management, among other issues.

The challenges are exacerbated if two-thirds of the territory is considered to be arid or semi-arid and that 80% of the population is concentrated in areas with only 33% of renewable water.

At the end of this edition, and prior to the announcement of the National Development Plan – and that could modify the works listed -, on the Projects Mexico site there were only 10 works on water and the environment, three in execution and seven in pre-investment. In execution are: the Playas de Rosarito desalination plant, the Zapotillo aqueduct and the Guaymas y Empalme desalination plant, Sonora.

These few projects do not respond to the urgency at the door. According to the UN, we are nine years after the so-called ‘DAY ZERO’ in terms of water comes, to begin with, to Mexico City. That day is one in which the supply on demand is replaced by daily rationing.

According to the Statistics on Water in Mexico (2018 edition) of the National Water Commission (Conagua), the Valley of Mexico presents a degree of pressure on water resources “very high” (141.4%). In the last decade alone, the distribution of water by tanning in the capital of the country grew 120% and up to 40% of the water transported is lost in leaks.

In this regard, José Eduardo Mestre, a specialist in water resources management, explains in his document Reengineering. Water in Mexico: Proposed guidelines for the 2018-2024 period, that “government water management is lagging: there is disorder in concessions and assignments, water measurement and knowledge of availability is deficient; the Water Law is applied Nationally without an updated regulation and there are information gaps. “

100% more infrastructure

In terms of infrastructure, specialists agree that, by 2050, our country needs to have more hydraulic infrastructure than that carried out throughout its history, so development has to start now. Investment in infrastructure should correspond to at least 5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP); however, less than 2 percent is invested. For the 2018-2024 sexennium,

Mestre calculates the investment of 324.1 million pesos (MDP) additional to what is already allocated to the sector.

The Federation Expenditure Budget for 2019 to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat), a unit to which Conagua is attached, allocates 26,520 million pesos, 32% less than in 2018. Some of the most affected programs they are water, sewage, and sanitation, with 36% fewer resources.

“This proposal gives continuity to the brutal cuts of Enrique Peña Nieto,” says Miguel Ángel Montoya, consultant in comprehensive water management.

From 2000 to 2017, per capita investment in real terms barely accounted for almost half of what was invested in the 1980s. In 2018, the budget allocated to the sector was 11,223 million pesos, equivalent to 29% of the 1993 budget in real terms.

According to Mestre, some of the most urgent actions in water infrastructure are the modernization of the irrigation work, whose lag has negative impacts not only on water use, but also on the productivity of the agricultural sector, enriching the portfolio of studies of pre-investment, and improve the works of conduction and the networks of distribution of water.

To achieve greater investment, on the one hand, the collection of rights for consumption must be increased, and on the other, to encourage the participation of the private initiative. “We need to go to the participation of many private companies and we need to make a project attractive so that an investor wants to come to do the work,” says Eduardo Ramírez Leal, president of the Mexican Chamber of the Construction Industry (CMIC).

Private participation, yes or no?

Private investment in water and sanitary services in the country has been limited. In 2015, the last available figure was 1,425 million dollars (mdd), according to the Regional Process of the Americas. Mexico document, presented at the 8th World Water Forum in 2018, held in Brazil. This record figure, since 1993, was 36% higher than that registered in 2014, but 910.6% higher compared to 2013.

Roberto Olivares, former general director of the National Association of Water and Sanitation Companies (ANEAS), identifies that among the causes of low private participation is “the lack of conditions to attract private capital in a stable and sustainable manner, and that, usually, is linked to big projects. “

Conagua data shows that, from 1992 to 2010, only 33 private participation contracts were executed, 70% CPOT type (build, own, operate and transfer). The debate on private participation in the water sector is on the table following the proposal to reform the National Water Law, presented by Senator Martí Batres, current president of the Upper House.

“It is the exclusive power of the State in its three levels of government to supply drinking water, since, being considered a human right, it must only be provided by the State, and not by individuals seeking to make a profit by the exploitation, administration, and commercialization of drinking water, “says the legislator in his initiative.

On the contrary, Víctor Lichtinger, president of the Water Advisory Council, considers that prohibiting categorically private participation will only lead to water shortages and a much more serious pollution problem. In his opinion, what is required is to improve the regulation to prevent the abuse of collections.

The participation of the private sector in the matter began in 1992 with the enactment of the current National Water Law, through concessions.

Last Chance

The country is in time to implement actions to ensure water sustainability and, with it, the country in a context in which the crises generated by water scarcity is already one of the five main global risks with the greatest impact over the next decade, according to the Global Risks Report 2018, which is prepared by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

To reverse the lag in water matters it is essential to have solid guidelines that allow the design of innovative tools and strategies. “Wrong public policies affect the course of water with repercussions on its management as a resource,” said Mestre, also a consultant to the International Finance Corporation (in English, IFC).

In institutional matters, a priority must be decentralization; strengthen the role of states and recover horizontal collaboration at the federal level. According to Mestre, centralization has proved costly and inefficient, wastes the knowledge of the states of regional reality and translates into a fragile governance that fosters conflicts between users.

The institutional framework also requires the issuance of the Regulation of the National Water Law, which allows its proper application. The current one does not meet the 2004 reforms; It is obsolete. Another aspect that public policy should consider is demand management, as it has focused on putting more water for users.

But now you must bet on increasing the volumes of water treatment and its reuse; and improve use, increase efficiency and sanction waste.

The countdown to the ‘zero day’, not only for Mexico City but for most of the country, is in the hands of the public policy that is now decided.

The required investment

(Millions of pesos)

The water sector needs an additional investment of 314,150 million pesos (MDP) for 2018-2024. Some of the items are:

  • 12,000 in public investment projects.
  • 2,000 for water management in a modern, decentralized and sustainable way.
  • 50,000 for wastewater treatment.
  • 5,000 for research and development (R&D).

Source: Obrasweb.mx, Reengineering Water in Mexico: proposed guidelines for the 2018-2014 period. José Eduardo Mestre Rodríguez.

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