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What water?

23 June 2009

Rick Blaine wasn’t the first gringo to open a business catering to tourists and expats in a tropical seaport without full knowledge of the infrastructure.  Mazatlan — unlike Casablanca — isn’t in the desert, it is in a dry region and one might come for the beaches, and the ocean — you don’t come here for the waters.  Or waste it.

We’re at the tail end of dry season.  While it’s efficient (and common in Latin America) to have a gravity fed water system, when the water level drops (as it has over the dry season), the pressure in the water lines drops… and — with my tank not refilling itself — eventually it will run dry.  And did.

My house was built on top of the land-lady’s house, so the system — while simple and elegant — is not failsafe.  Once her cistern on the ground floor fills, it pushes water to a tank on my back porch that provides water to her system.  When her tank fills, it pushes water to my tank… which means, when my tank goes dry, I can generally fill a couple of buckets for basic things like flushing the toilet and wash the dishes.  Oh, I might have to use a bucket to take a shower, but that’s not so bad.

Dried ArroyoÑMexico (DI01230) Photo by David GochisBut… and wouldn’t you know it, it’s when I have gringo visitors who expect everything to always work… there wasn’t enough enough water in the lines to even fill the cistern.  Not that I feel singled out — twenty colonias in Mazatlan had no water last week.  Thanks to a tropical storm and a rented electrical pump, I have running water again, for now.

Water… and having enough water… is a chronic problem in Mexico (and most of the world).  Mexico City is not the only place to have experienced exponential growth, which coupled with an aging water system, and increased demand has meant serious shortages.

Here in Sinaloa, as elsewhere, there are conflicting demands between agricultural industrial and consumer use.  Mining and agriculture is the mainstay of the Sinaloan economy, and without water, there is no agriculture and no mining.   Photos of dessicated dead cattle are standard fare in the local newspapers this time of year.  Besides the obvious water users, like the local brewery and canneries there isn’t an industrial process that doesn’t require huge amounts of water… and, it’s industrial and agricultural production that allowed Mexico to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle:  we have flush toilets, and wash our bodies, our dishes and our clothes (not to mention floors and the dog) like people north of the border (maybe a little more… Mexicans have a fetish about clean floors).

Certainly, no one is going to begrudge people the advantage of flush toilets, or a daily shower, but it’s hard NOT to notice that in places like Mazatlan — with a booming tourist industry — there is even a greater strain on our limited resources.  Resource allocation is sometimes bizarre.  The hotel swimming pools had all the water they needed (a few meters from the ocean) but twenty colonias (including mine) had no water at all.

garrafonWhich is a problem, when you have visitors for a week from North of the Border.  Our NoB friends expect life to be “turn-key” (or… maybe in this case…” turn-tap”) so while they may not expect you to wash the dishes, or wash the dog for a couple of days, they freak when expected to wash in what you’ve collected from the air conditioner’s condensation (which, the June temperature being slightly above that of Minneapolis is expected to run 24/7 — though I won’t get into the over-extended electrical system here).

We’ve had our first rainy season storm, so I do have water again, and the Picachos dam project is supposed to provide enough water to meet demand for the next several years.  Whose demands, though?  There are regular protests from the communities that are being flooded by the new dam, to the consernation of our north of the border visitors and “ex-pat community” .  And, that water will have to be paid for.

To those NoB, having the taps run dry is just inconceivable.  Even though — like a lot of NoB visitors, my houseguest was wary of drinking tap water (assuming there had been tap water), something about not having any must work psychologically to make people extra thirsty.  Buying water — by the half-liter bottle, seemed to be his major shopping activity.  Besides having adopted the Mexican attitude that an empty bottle is a usable item (like refilling it from the 18-liter garrafon sitting on the kitchen counter and sticking it in the refrigerator if cold water was the issue), buying water is damned expensive.  My garrafon is normally delivered — 12 pesos (which is about what a liter of bottled water costs) and I could afford to buy one a day for a few days if it really became necessary (though with my regular delivery guy overwhelmed by demand, I had to lug a garifon home seven blocks from the neighborhood distributor… still cheaper not paying for delivery, but I’m over 50 and those suckers are heavy).

Industrial use, agriculture, tourism, consumerism… all require water.  And, any way it’s captured is going to cost money.  Writing in Truthout.com (and picked up by “Raw Story” as if it was something new, was Lisa Bokov-Ellen’s article on attempts to privatize water sales throughout Latin America.  There were serious riots throughout Argentina when water systems were privatized (leading to four presidents in one month) and control of natural resources is the friction point for political and social upheaval throughout the world.

The United States and Canada have been particularly fortunate in having a

Bellagio Resort, Las Vegas

Bellagio Resort, Las Vegas

water-rich environment, but even in places like Phoenix, or Los Angeles or … by all means… Las Vegas… you haven’t had to pay full price for your water… yet.  Whether it should be a commodity is not the only question.  What is “fair price” for basic use — and is a tuna cannery or an auto plant somehow more essential than a cattle farm or bean field… or a tourist attraction?    Should those of us who just want to wash our dishes have to spend a morning waiting for the delivery man’s truck because the tourists bring in foreign exchange?  Who decides?

And, if you came for the waters… are you misinformed as to the real price?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Eugene Hoekendorf permalink
    23 June 2009 4:55 pm

    Hello,

    12 pesos!, Mexico City is about 26 pesos in the store and Cuernavaca is 24 pesos delivered for a garofon.
    In Cuernavaca “de Los Angeles” is owned by none other than Coke-Cola. Our garofons have 19 liters.

    Eugene

  2. Joe Dryden permalink
    23 June 2009 4:59 pm

    It rains in the summer, you have a flat roof, dig a hole and line it with concrete, collect rainwater from the canales into your cistern and pump it when needed. Mine has 64,000 liters waiting for times of drought.

  3. 5 July 2009 5:05 pm

    California is back into a drought. We have to scramble for water from Colorado.

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