Before you buy learn about Mexico’s water situation


Mexico is already experiencing the negative effects of lack of water. In recent years, the central and northern regions of the country have experienced water shortages due to increased droughts. According to data from the World Bank, the average annual availability per capita in the country went from 10,000 cubic meters (m 3 ) in 1960 to 4,000 in 2012. It is estimated that by 2030, this availability in Mexico will drop below 3 thousand m 3 per inhabitant per year.

Due to its importance for economic, environmental and social development, the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) carried out a study with the aim of offering a diagnosis of the current water situation in the country, from understanding the four consumer groups to the challenges faced by the types of water resources in Mexico. With this, proposals were made that contribute to the development of public policy guidelines at the national level that solve current problems and foresee future risks in the matter.

To guarantee future demand, the Mexican State needs to update the legal and regulatory frameworks that govern water management, as well as modernize the country’s hydraulic infrastructure. It is necessary to take into consideration the different technical characteristics -particularly the geophysical ones- and challenges that the country currently presents in terms of water, such as the population increase, the growth of the urban sprawl, the evolution of droughts, as well as the variation in the rainfall.

What do we know about the water situation in Mexico?

In the country there are four consumer groups of water concessions:

  • Agricultural sector. In 2020, this sector had 76% of the total water granted for irrigation of crops and livestock
  • Public supply. It represents 15% of the total concession and is distributed through potable water networks to homes, industries and other users that are connected to said networks.
  • Self-sufficient industry. It represents 5% of the total concessioned and includes companies that take water directly from the country’s rivers, streams, lakes and aquifers.
  • Thermoelectric plants. It represents 4% of the concessioned water.

Water resources in Mexico face different challenges depending on their type (surface or underground), as well as the type of weather phenomena (precipitation or drought):

  • Superficial water. In Mexico, 60% of drinking water comes from surface water bodies. Of the main rivers, seven represent 71% of the country’s surface water, distributed in the center and south of the country, while only 29% of the surface water is located in the north. The main problem of surface water is contamination, particularly from wastewater, whether domestic, industrial, agricultural or livestock, which in most cases is discharged without prior treatment and contains dissolved polluting elements and substances. 
  • Groundwater (aquifers). Aquifers in Mexico are at risk of overexploitation. In 2018, 18% of underground aquifers were overexploited. This affects both the human supply and agricultural and industrial activities, at the same time it raises the costs of extracting water and causes subsidence in the land. Likewise, 5% of the aquifers had soil salinization problems, a process by which the concentration of salts and minerals in groundwater increases, and deteriorates its quality parameters.  Added to this, 3% of the aquifers in Mexico have problems of marine intrusion, which occurs when salt water inland displaces fresh water. 
  • Precipitation. Mexico receives on average around 1.5 million hm 3 of water per year in the form of precipitation. 67% falls between June and September, mostly in the south-southeast region -where 50% of the rains take place-. The national average annual precipitation has increased over time, potentially due to climate change. However, this phenomenon has not occurred in all states with the same intensity. In Mexico City and the State of Mexico, precipitation decreased between 2000 and 2021, while during this same period it increased in states such as Campeche, Quintana Roo, Veracruz, and Guanajuato.
  • droughts. Mexico is a country vulnerable to droughts with 52% of its territory located in an arid or semi-arid climate. In total, 14 states are in these regions. Although droughts are recurring phenomena, during the last decade they have been increasing in frequency, intensity and duration. In 2021, 8,491 droughts were registered, of which 71% were severe -with which there is a risk of crop losses-, 26% were extreme -with greater crop losses, and risk of forest fires- and 3% were exceptional droughts, that is to say with total scarcity of water in reservoirs, streams and wells.

Mexico must address the water problem with data and evidence. Based on this diagnosis, the IMCO proposes a series of public policy recommendations that will be addressed in detail in subsequent studies that address the water problem from the angles of regulation, infrastructure and management. Proposals:

  • Improve the monitoring of water use, mainly in the livestock and agricultural sector (currently it is not based on precise measurements, but on estimates), with the aim of having data and indicators that allow more efficient water management in the country.
  • Develop climate projects in the livestock and agricultural sector, through, for example, the purchase and sale of carbon credits or climate financing such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF). It is essential to develop infrastructure for water management.
  • Evaluate and update the delimitation of the aquifers into which the country is divided using geophysical criteria instead of geopolitical ones.
  • Invest in modernization and conservation of infrastructure. Mexico needs to improve its water infrastructure for more efficient management, mainly to address the problem of clandestine intakes and leaks.


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