Water in the Valley of Mexico: “neither efficient, nor sustainable”

March 19, 2013

Isabelle Schäfer/World Bank

  • The population continues to grow as water resources dwindle, and millions of liters are lost daily through leaks and other challenges.
  • The price paid for service covers only 51 percent of the cost; the rest is subsidized.
  • Families end up paying up to three times more to compensate for service-related deficiencies.

In addition to paying a monthly tariff for drinking water, drainage, and sanitation, an   average family in the Valley of Mexico spends over 4,000 pesos per year to compensate for recurring service cuts and other service-related deficiencies.

Families lacking potable water must pay much more to be able to bathe, cook, wash their clothes, and quench their thirst.

Although 91.6 percent of inhabitants of the Valley of Mexico have a connection to potable water in their homes, the service is typically irregular.

In addition to these challenges, the inhabitants of this area already consume more water than is available.

The report “Agua urbana en el Valle de México: ¿Un camino verde para mañana?” (Urban Water in the Valley of Mexico: A Green path for Tomorrow?) clearly predicts that if measures are not taken, by 2030, three systems will be required like the one in Cutzamala, where water is made potable and distributed for the Mexico state and the Federal District.

Inefficient, unsustainable, and inequitable

The study emphasizes that water management in the Valley of Mexico is not on par with other major Latin American cities. “It is inefficient, unsustainable, and inequitable and therefore jeopardizes the ability of future generations to also benefit from such a vital resource as water,” says the report.

The region’s population has grown by a factor of 5.6 between 1950 and 2005, but there is very limited water availability. The city of Monterrey has, for example, 6.5 times more water available per inhabitant per year than the Valley of Mexico.

In addition, 32 percent of the water used in the Valley comes from rivers, lakes, and other sources that are being depleted as a result of overexploitation.

When water use is analyzed against international standards, one third of the water is not used efficiently owing, among other reasons, to the amount lost through leaks in the network and in homes. 

" The first step on the green path to tomorrow mentioned in the study begins today "

Ede Ijjasz Vásquez

Director for Sustainable Development for Latin America and the Caribbean with the World Bank

Costs are not covered

Another challenge is that the tariff paid by citizens covers only 51 percent of the cost of the entire system; the rest is subsidized by the Government.

The investment “cannot even maintain the service in its current state,” according to the study.

“All the incentives are geared toward inefficiency,” says Ramón Aguirre Díaz, Director General of the Water System of Mexico City [Sistema de Aguas de la Ciudad de México SACM], “and that is one of the challenges we face with the current water system management model.”

According to Ede Ijjasz Vásquez, Director for Sustainable Development for Latin America and the Caribbean with the World Bank, it is not only a question of the tariff, but also of all the hidden costs behind the water supply problems, which are often borne by the poor.

Overconsumption of water

The inhabitants of the Valley of Mexico consume much more water than other Latin American cities such as Monterrey or Sao Paulo. While daily per capita consumption in Sao Paulo is 125 liters, more than twice this amount is consumed in the Valley of Mexico, that is 300 liters per day.

Although the study seeks primarily to provide information, it also offers a number of recommendations, for example, obtain more data on water management, develop a coordination mechanism, and identify financing plans that go beyond subsidies.

The first step toward green development

In addition, there are key points that must be addressed:

  • Improve the service and expand water coverage
  • Reduce inefficiencies
  • Monitor citizens’ water use
  • Identify new sustainable water sources
  • Be prepared for emergency situations, such as droughts

It is also very important, the study indicates, that all inhabitants of the Valley of Mexico be aware of the problem and support the solutions.

“The first step on the green path to tomorrow mentioned in the study begins today,” Ijjasz Vásquez affirmed.

The World Bank in Mexico

The World Bank has been collaborating with the Government of Mexico in the water sector since 1973. It offers an extensive menu of financial services, knowledge, and convening services to address the specific needs of the sector.