Last Cry of the Hydrosaurs: Elena Burns

Elena Burns

We are at a critical moment for the future of water resources in the Basin of Mexico. Maybe the same old interests, “hydrosaurs”, will lead us to collapse? Or will government-citizen collaboration on effective water management prevail over time? The coin is in the air.

The era of the “hydrosaur” began in Mexico in 1989 with the founding of Conagua and was consolidated in 1992 with the approval of the National Water Law (LAN), both under the authorship of Fernando Gonzalez Villarreal, who, together with his son, leads the hydrosaurian dynasty to this day. They take turns instructing party officials in connection with the great construction and concession hydrocracy presided over by Carlos Slim.

Under their rule, water is a “business”, with urine, and the only thing that matters is the seizure of large public resources for great works of dubious value. They are not concerned about the excessive concession of basins and aquifers, nor about accumulation, nor leakage, nor huachicole, nor the abandonment of gauging stations, nor pollution, nor inequitable distribution in cities. The more discontent, the better: they are capable of turning any social crisis into an excuse for yet another ill-conceived mega-play.

Now, contributing to the current water crisis in the Basin of Mexico, hydrosaurus officials are trying to get the President to commit to a major six-year project. They pressure him to “decide” whether to bring him water from Puebla, Hidalgo, Morelos, Veracruz or Temazcaltepec, without offering him more reasonable alternatives. They are calling on you to approve before the elections another major project, such as the Kutzamala system (which costs 3 billion pesos to pump, a million pesos per year) or the similar Emisor Oriente (which costs 50 million pesos to be able to build an airport in the main rainwater storage pool).

On the other hand, fortunately, the foundations for effective water management are emerging: people at the local level who have always cared about water as a common good; brilliant engineers who know deep down about failed corrupt projects; lawyers are convinced that another Mexico is possible.

At the moment, this group of people with a different vision has found a place in the government of the State of Mexico, which is finally in the hands of rulers who strive to respect the communities and territories surrounding the CDMX and to ensure that the capital’s hydraulic system works to guarantee water security.

They propose to start with the obvious: immediately end water harvesting, cancel illegal concessions from “water millionaires,” and stop supplying drinking water for irrigating golf courses. They launch civil-government campaigns against waste and collusion between fitting workers and chimney sweeps. They propose to recover 40% of the water lost to leaks while eliminating asbestos by inserting an inflatable pipe into the main lines without destroying the road surface.

First of all, they propose to reorganize the territory’s water through a series of reservoirs – “water parks”, where the sun, wind and wetlands will serve to regenerate rainwater and reclaimed water for its subsequent purification. Instead of bringing in water from outside, they propose investing in water management around the major lakes: Guadalupe Zumpango; Tlauac-Chico; Texcoco; Xochimilco-San Gregorio, Rio de los Remedios.

Any of the transfers under consideration would cost between 20 and 50 billion pesos, take four to 10 years to complete, require negotiations with hundreds of agricultural groups and local governments, and incur exorbitant transaction costs. Meanwhile, the Lago Zumpango project, together with replacing thousands of kilometers of main lines and strengthening the Kutzamala system with treated water from Toluca’s macro-plants, will provide an additional 8 m3/s next year at a cost of $14.8 million per day. (of which already 7 million pesos, another 6 million pesos in the 1928 Fund). This flow is 53% of what Kutsamala provided.

Restoration projects will not only provide “forever water” at a low cost, but will also improve sanitation, prevent flooding, curb unsustainable urban sprawl, restore ecosystems, and provide recreational opportunities. By avoiding the generation of greenhouse gases, they will be eligible for financing through carbon credits.

At the moment, the battle is unequal, given that institutional interests and inertia are at the service of the hydrosaurs and their masters. Conagua is feverishly investing in preparing preliminary designs for each of the transfers mentioned above, while the Mexico State Water Commission has its hands tied because its resources needed for its proposals are sequestered in a trust. 1928.

In the absence of public comment and a lack of cost-benefit analysis by the SHCP Investment Division, there is no guarantee that the decision made for the Mexico Basin will be sufficiently sound.

Whatever happens now, sooner or later it can be foreseen that the Government of Good Water will defeat the hydrosaurs, because the cost, conflict and ineffectiveness of their patches detract from their legitimacy. Citizens are already demanding the abolition of the LAN in favor of a General Water Law, which organizes and uses water efficiently and eliminates discretion in decisions about works. Let the hydrosaurs scream and kick: only the path of sustainable development can last.

Elena Burns is a water resources consultant.

Source: Aristegui Noticias