The industrial hub of Monterrey has long been one of Mexico’s most prosperous cities, so its almost 5 million residents were shocked when they lost the most basic of services: water.
A combination of an intense drought, poor planning, and high water use has left residents of Mexico’s industrial powerhouse to resort to extreme measures that call up images of isolated, poorer areas: storing water in buckets to use a scoopful at a time.
“We are panicked because we don’t know when the water will come back on,” said 60-year-old Monterrey resident María del Carmen Lara. “We finally got them to send us a water truck, but we still don’t have running water.”
Local authorities began restricting water supplies in March, as the three dams that help supply the city dried up. They currently hold only 45%, 2%, and 8% of their capacity, and city authorities say the two lowest dams had only a few days’ worth of water left. Earlier this month, they declared water would be available only between 4 a.m. and 10a.m, recently extending the service until 11 a.m. But authorities haven’t even been able to supply that, and in thousands of homes, not a drop has come out of faucets for weeks.
Lara and her husband haven’t had running water for three weeks and don’t have enough money for holding tanks to store any significant quantity. In a stop-gap measure, some of the city’s suburbs have set up giant plastic water tanks in public squares for residents to fill containers with water. So on a recent hot, sunny day, they were busy dragging buckets and bins to a water tank truck to fill them.
Big, expensive, and sometimes corruption-laden water management plans have come and gone, but the lack of long-term planning or conservation remain. One project, that would have built an aqueduct to bring water from the Pánuco River, 310 miles (500 kilometers) away, to the city, which authorities at the time claimed would sure up the city’s water supplies for 50 years, was dropped in 2016 because of alleged corruption in the granting of contracts by the previous administration.
About 60% of Monterrey’s water comes from dams, with the rest coming from public wells. The state also has private wells, which owners, ranchers, and businesses drill with strict limits on how much they can pump. But those limits often appear to have been ignored, and some wells may have been drilled surreptitiously, according to state and federal officials.
And it’s not just Monterrey. According to the North American Drought Monitor, a cooperative effort between drought experts in Canada, Mexico and the United States, 56% of Mexico is experiencing some level of drought.