Urban water Water storage Mexico

Navigating Mexico’s water challenges

Tuesday, 22 August 2023

Mexico is currently facing a series of formidable water challenges that have been exacerbated by a historic heatwave and extended drought. The nation's water resources are strained due to a combination of factors, including climate change-induced shifts in weather patterns, unsustainable agricultural practices, and urban expansion.

The true extent of the problem 

Statistics published by the National Autonomous University of Mexico tell a harrowing story. Only 58 per cent of Mexico’s population has daily access to running water, approximately six million people have no access to potable water, 11 million lack sanitation services and only 14 per cent of the population receives water 24 hours a day.

As Mexico grapples with the consequences of these water shortages, there is a growing need for comprehensive strategies to address water scarcity, enhance water infrastructure, and promote sustainable water management practices across both rural and urban areas. 

Mexico’s cloud seeding initiative 

In July, the Mexican government initiated the latest phase of a cloud seeding initiative aimed at boosting rainfall. The project involves aircraft releasing silver iodide particles into clouds, with the aim of attracting additional water droplets to increase rain or snowfall.

The Mexican agricultural ministry says that cloud seeding is helping counteract the effects of drought in rural regions and contribute to replenishing aquifers. This practice has been conducted at least once a year since 2020 with the government reporting a success rate of 98 per cent, even attributing assistance in extinguishing forest fires in 2021 to the project.

However, farmers in northern Mexico who are currently grappling with the severe drought say while they are open to strategies that could enhance rainfall, such as the cloud seeding, more needs to be done. They would like to see government investment in irrigation distribution networks to improve efficiency and water conservation.

Innovation to address water challenges

Charlie Suse from Bluefield Research wrote an insight report on Mexico’s water landscape. Speaking to Aquatech he says: “Innovation is by all means critical to addressing Mexico’s water challenges, but the reality is that overall improvements will require significantly more investment into leakage reduction in urban areas, reducing barriers to large scale desalination projects, wastewater reuse and other proven methods for reducing consumption and maximizing supply.”

In both urban and rural settings, Mexico remains ill-equipped to manage extreme climate events. Urban areas have become heat islands due to reduced green spaces, while unsustainable agricultural practices have transformed rural regions into desert-like wastelands. 

Fundamental water conservation strategies are often neglected while ambitious endeavors such as cloud seeding and large-scale desalination plants are prioritized. 

“High levels of non-revenue water (NRW) continue to plague service providers in urban areas, with NRW rates surpassing 70 per cent in Mexico City. That said, this represents an enormous opportunity for investments in leakage reduction,” adds Suse.

“Desalination has also garnered significant attention as several desalination P3s [public-private-partnerships] have moved forward under the National Infrastructure Plan, though cost recovery continues to be a deterrent for investments in larger scale plants,” he says.

Desalination capacities in Mexico

Between 2012 and 2022, Mexico increased its desalination capacity by 240 per cent and the country’s roughly 350 desalination plants now process around 198 MGD.

Suse believes that wastewater reuse presents a third opportunity for Mexico to leverage the disproportionate water footprint of the agricultural and industrial sectors. “A number of major food and beverage companies have constructed water reclamation plants as sustainability targets are driving investments in reuse,” he concludes. 

Unilever, for example, is investing in two Mexican food plants to increase production capacity to supply the local and international markets. The FMCG company said its factories in Tultitlán and Lerma, located in the north-east and south-east of Mexico will receive multi-billion funding to  improve infrastructure, add new equipment and to buy technologies to optimise water and energy usage. The projects are expected to be completed by 2024.

A coordinated effort

While Mexico’s cloud seeding initiative has shown promise in boosting rainfall and aiding aquifer replenishment, more comprehensive strategies are needed to address water scarcity in both urban and rural areas. In the face of the country’s formidable water challenges, a coordinated effort that incorporates technology, infrastructure development, conservation measures, and a commitment to sustainable practices is the key to securing a more water-resilient future for Mexico and its population. 

There is no doubt that water is a huge challenge in Mexico. The National Water Programme 2020-2024 (PNH) published by the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) aims to guarantee the human rights to water and sanitation, especially for the most vulnerable population and to make efficient use of water to contribute to the sustainable development of the productive sectors. It also seeks to reduce the population's vulnerability to floods and droughts, preserve the integrity of the water cycle to guarantee water services that depend on basins and aquifers, and improve water governance.

Aquatech Mexico

  • Between 5 - 7 September 2023, Aquatech Mexico will take place in Mexico City. The event for water technology professionals, experts, and investors, all with a shared interest in advancing their businesses within the Americas will address Mexico’s water challenges.  The event is the perfect opportunity to forge valuable business connections, engage in fruitful idea exchange, and gain comprehensive insights into the water technology landscape in this specific region. Find out more here.