October 20, 2021

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Mexico’s drought reaches critical levels as lakes dry up

Mexico's drought reaches critical levels as lakes dry up

Drought conditions now cover 85% of Mexico

The mayor of Mexico City said the drought was the worst in 30 years and the problem can be seen in the reservoirs that store water from other states to supply the capital.

Some of them, such as the Villa Victoria reservoir west of the capital, are at a third of their normal capacity, with a month and a half before significant rainfall is expected.

Isaías Salgado, 60, was trying to fill his water tank at Villa Victoria, a task that normally takes only half an hour. On Thursday he estimated it would take 3.5 hours to pump water into his 10,000-liter tank.

“The tank is drying up,” Salgado said. “If they keep pumping the water, by May it will be completely dry and the fish will die.”

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said that as the drought worsened, more and more people have tended to water their lawns and gardens, which makes the problem worse.

The 9 million inhabitants of the capital rely on water basins such as Villa Victoria and two others – which together have about 44% of the capacity – for a quarter of their water; most of the rest comes from wells within the city limits. But the city’s water table is decreasing and leaking pipes are wasting much of what is brought into the city.

Rogelio Angeles Hernandez, 61, has been fishing in the waters of Villa Victoria for 30 years. He is not so worried about his own fishing; in the dry seasons of the past, residents were able to transport fish with wheelbarrows as the water level dropped.

But tourism in reservoirs, such as the Valle de Bravo further west, has been affected by the drop in water levels.

In the end, it is the capital that really suffers.

“The fishing is the same, but the real impact will be on the people in Mexico City, who will have less water,” Angeles Hernandez said.

Further west, in the state of Michoacan, the country risks losing its second largest lake, Lake Cuitzeo. About 75 percent of the lake bottom is now dry, said Alberto Gómez-Tagle, a biologist and researcher who chairs the Institute of Natural Resources at the University of Michoacán.

Gómez-Tagle said deforestation, roads built across the shallow lake, and diversion of water for human use played a role, but three extremely dry years left the lake a dusty plain.

“2019, 2020 and so far 2021 have been drier than average and this has had a cumulative effect on the lake,” he said.

Michoacan Gov. Silvano Aureoles said much of the lake has dried up that coastal communities are now suffering from sandstorms. He said communities may need to start planting vegetation on the lake bed to prevent storms.

In a petition to the government, residents of communities around the lake said that only six of the 19 fish species once found in Cuitzeo now remain. They said the sandstorms had caused tens of thousands of respiratory and intestinal infections among local residents.