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Shit happens…

10 March 2008


It’s time for the annual reaming out of the city’s storm sewers, which will clear an estimated 150 tons of accumulated trash (leaves, litter, dead cats…) that builds up every year, and needs to be cleared out before the rainy season.

Mexico City’s geographical position — on a lake with no natural drainage, has always made waste-water a challenge.  The Aztecs carted off human and animal waste for fertilizer in the chinapas (the floating gardens built on giant rafts that still exist in a few parts of Xochimilco).  The poet-engineer-emperor Nezahaucoatl (Leonardo da Vinci, though never a ruler,  was the other multi-talented guy of the time) designed a series of dikes and drainage systems to keep the city dry and drain off waste.  Alas, because the Spanish urban planning was used to dry plains, the system was abandoned.

In the 1620s, serious consideration was given to moving the capital of Nueva Espagna to Cuernavaca, especially when Mexico was underwater for over a year (priests conducted canoe-in services from church towers), and flooding was a regular problem until the late 1800s.

Building Mexico City’s sewers was one of the great engineering marvels of the late 19th century. The Anglo-Mexican firm, S. Pearson and Sons, finished the project in 1901, ending centuries of annual flooding in the Federal District.Porfiro Diaz’ inaugural flush (attended by a brass band), followed by the diplomatic corps’ witnessing of sewage spewing out in the Lerma River (the system has been much improved since then) was spectacular enough to make Pearson a serious contender for the next big engineering project of the time… the Panama Canal.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 29 December 2008 1:44 pm

    It’s “chinampas” and there were no floating gardens in Tenochtitlan. Rafts were used to transport seed beds, most likely, but go to Xochimilco today, those are raised (or drained, if you prefer) fields above ‘normal’ water table.
    Just for the record. Good piece otherwise.

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