Mexico City, the second largest city in the Western Hemisphere with 19.3 million inhabitants, is having major water problems. Over the past month, Mexico City’s water authority, Conagua, has been delivering water to consumers that has a foul odor and taste and activists there are questioning Conagua’s transparency in the matter.
The source of the problem is in the Valle de Bravo dam, which feeds into the Lerma-Cutzamala system that provides 30 percent of the water to Mexico City inhabitants.
The Valle de Bravo dam has been infested with algae for several weeks, which means there is a large quantity of organic matter that provides food for bacteria, viruses and parasites to multiply and contaminate the water. Not only have citizens suffered from an unusual increase of intestinal illnesses from drinking contaminated water, they may also be at risk for liver damage if they continue to drink contaminated water over the long term.
Conagua needs to act quickly to provide safe water to citizens while they remove algae from the dam, but Conagua argues their treatment system produces clean and safe water and that no epidemics have broken out. Bad smelling and poor tasting water is due to dirty water tanks at the municipal and consumer level, explain Conagua authorities.
However, Mexico City water activists call Conagua’s water safety into question and doubt the accuracy of water quality and treatment information available to the public. Food & Water Watch’s Claudia Campero works with the Coalition of Mexican Organizations for the Right to Water (COMDA) and consulted with a gastroenterology specialist who found an atypical increase of gastrointestinal illnesses in the part of Mexico City where most of the Valle de Bravo dam water ends up. Worse yet, Conagua’s activated carbon and chlorine treatment methods for last month’s algae infestation are similar to treatment methods that have been shown to produce carcinogenic chemicals.
Conagua needs to be transparent about their water treatment methodology and disclose the result of all their water samplings. How are they treating the water for human feces contamination and how effective has this been?
Access to clean water is a human right. Conagua is responsible for providing safe and clean water to Mexico City citizens.
COMDA calls for Mexican authorities to:
- Abide by their constitutional obligations.
- Provide continuous and accessible information about water quality.
- Provide free, safe water to vulnerable populations while fixing the polluted water distribution system.
Roxanne Darrow is a summer intern with the Food & Water Watch International Policy Program. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a BA in International Development Studies.