Severe and unrelenting drought is not limited to Mexico City, the largest city in North America with a population of twenty-one million. It is a global impact in its infancy. According to Mexico's National Meteorological Service, 75 percent of the country is in exceptional or severe drought.
Water shortages and flooding are a historical reality. It is a “part of a weather pattern where warmer months typically usher in low-pressure weather systems that bring rain.”
Mexico is sandwiched between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, making it vulnerable to natural disasters. Climate change makes most of them more potent, intense, and frequent. Impacts include hurricanes, earthquakes, heavy rainfall, drought, forest fires, and volcanic activity. This year was ferocious.
The most violent hurricanes since 2018 (only 2023 storms included in my edit).
- Otis: October 17-25, 2023, Wind speed: max. 269 km/h, Diameter: max. 556 km, Air pressure: below 923 mbar, Saffir-Simpson scale: category 5
- Lidia: September 30 to October 11, 2023. Wind speed: max. 222 km/h, Diameter: max. 556 km, Air pressure: below 942 mbar, Saffir-Simpson scale: category 4
- Idalia: August 24 to September 2, 2023, Region: Gulf of Mexico, Wind speed: max. 194 km/h, on land, Air pressure: below 944 mbar, Saffir-Simpson scale: category 5.
- Hilary: August 13-21, 2023, Wind speed: max. 232 km/h on land, Diameter: max. 1333 km, Air pressure: below 939 mbar, Saffir-Simpson scale: category 4
Climate change has been exacerbating and disrupting rainfall patterns across Mexico and the earth.
In Mexico City, the consequences of a fast-warming planet, too many people, El Nino, and a dilapidated water infrastructure have created severe water restrictions necessary for the megalopolis during this time.
The Voice of America writes:
MEXICO CITY —
Mexican officials imposed severe, monthslong cuts to Mexico City's water supply at midnight Friday, acting just a month after initial restrictions were ordered as drought dries the capital's reservoirs.
The Mexican National Water Commission and mayor announced the moves at a news conference, but officials did not report the cuts on social media until just four hours before they took effect.
Abnormally low rain has dropped the Cutzamala system — a network of three reservoirs serving more than 20 million residents in the Valley of Mexico — to historic seasonal lows. The system is 44% lower than it should be at this time of the year.
Officials began restricting water from Cutzamala by roughly 8% on Oct. 17. Friday's cuts are much more drastic, representing a further 25% of the system's total flow. Twelve boroughs, mostly in the west of the city, can expect lower water pressure until the restrictions lift, officials said.
Officials did not specify when that would be, saying only that restrictions would stand for "the next few months." They noted the rainy season — which at normal levels of precipitation would replenish the city's water — won't start until around May.
Mexico has never before announced such stringent or long-running restrictions to the city's water because of drought. The city's residents have suffered worse cuts in the past, but only because of strikes or repairs, all of which ended within days.
Much of the city relies on wells that tap into the valley's groundwater. In response to the cuts on Tuesday, the government said it would drill new wells. But it may be hard to find enough water that way, especially as less water is returned to the valley's overexploited aquifer.
"Mexico City is a monster; it's a beast," said Adams. "All the asphalt, all the plastic in the gutters means that water disappears. It never enters the system" by reaching the aquifer, he said.
The government is also working on a new water treatment plant at the Madín reservoir, just northwest of Mexico City, which will add 132 gallons per second to the Cutzamala system.
"That's not a medium- and long-term solution," said Perló. "We cannot be living on the edge all the time."
Another solution could be local-level water capture.
Working with Mexico's Environment Department, Isla Urbana, a group working to improve water access in the city, has installed 10,000 rain collection systems house-by-house across the traditionally underserved southern boroughs of Tlalpan and Xochimilco. The systems gather, filter and treat rain falling on a building before storing it in a personal tank.
With an increasing population, the extraction of groundwater is only getting worse.
Zoë Schlanger wrote on the crisis in 2018 in the online magazine Quartz ( an excellent read, by the way) on Pedro Camarena, who advocates for the city to open an ancient lava flow to help alleviate the water crisis plaguing Mexico City.
At the bottom of the hole, a ripple of black, porous rock told a story of magma once in motion. Beside the ripple, a bulb of lava rock marked a spot where magma flow may have hit water, formed a bubble, and hardened just as it was set to pop, a spectacular moment of generative violence. The hole is a sort of time portal to roughly 1,700 years ago, when waves of lava from the nearby Xitle volcano coursed over this plateau. It’s a time all but forgotten by the megacity that grew up and engulfed the landscape. But Camarena hasn’t forgotten. He stood in his hole and beamed.
The city is sinking because Mexico pumps water out of the ground in their dried-out reservoir lake beds like there is no tomorrow. Once that water is gone, space fills the void, and with a significant city above, the land sinks. As a result, tap water is unreliable and often tainted with impurities.
In many areas of the city, “families have to pay for “pipas,” or water trucks, to fill up cisterns. Some pipas are run by the government, while others are privately managed. In both cases, they’re inundated with corruption and more demand than they can handle.” The wait for water can take hours, and the women fill that role, keeping them from employment and leading to poverty. Since the lakes have dried up, even more groundwater extraction is standard.
The groundwater was, and still is, stored in the relatively shallow aquifers that lie beneath the lake beds. In theory, groundwater can be replenished, but it’s a slow process; before rainwater can refill an aquifer, it must fall through layers of earth and rock, past many thirsty soil layers. In fact, while Mexico City residents endure months of regular flooding during the rainy season in some parts of the city, virtually none of that water makes it underground. That’s because rapid urbanization has sealed up any permeable surfaces in the city with pavement. In short, the city’s pores are clogged.
Camarena and his team at UNAM are trying to figure out how much time and money would be needed to re-expose some of the lava rock on a larger scale, in parts of the Pedregal where it’s trapped beneath highways and parking lots. Could you take out a concrete median on a highway, and let falling rain hit lava rock below? Could you peel back the city’s decorative lawns, and make lava-rock gardens instead?
It would be a herculean task; in parts of the Pedregal outside the reserve where the rock is covered by soil, not cement, an invasive African grass has grown like a mat, choking out the soil’s ability to let water through. All that soil would need to be moved out. “It would be extremely hard to re-expose the Pedregal,” Camarena says.
But it’s still easier than the most obvious alternative: building a second pipe to pump water from some far-off source into the city center to supplement the dwindling aquifers. Mexico City already has one such pipe system, which uses vast amounts of electricity to pump in water from a reservoir system in Cutzamala, more than 100 km (60 miles). It’s also highly inefficient: by the time the piped-in water makes to people’s homes, 40% has been lost to leaks along the way.
MIT Technology Review wrote in 2018: Get ready for tens of millions of climate refugees. The increasing heat and worsening climatic conditions make that era seem quaint compared to today's challenges. Today's climate is deteriorating so rapidly that we will be hard-pressed to plan for anything. In other words, expect the unexpected.
But is that a number we can trust? Modelers make many assumptions, like whether people will react the same way as they did to earlier climate disasters. Although models are improving, predicting how high seas will rise and how long droughts could last involves many unknowns. “There’s still a lot of work to do in this field, and I think we’re just scratching the surface,” says Bryan Jones of Baruch College, one of the report’s authors.
Modelers are trying to get more accurate numbers with new information from satellite images or mobile-phone data. But there are “constraints in using that technology,” says Valerie Mueller, an economist at Arizona State University and author of a number of studies on climate-change-induced migration. For example, satellite imagery can be used to count populations, but changes in population could result from births and deaths, not just migration. SIM cards in mobile phones can show where the phone went, but not why; and more than one person might use any given phone.
These examples focus on migration within rather than between countries, because that’s what most of the existing models focus on. Why? Because when people move, they don’t usually go far— people forced into migrating typically don’t have a lot of money, and if people in a neighboring country speak a different language, that’s yet another disincentive to leaving the home country. And in some cases a potential destination country has physical or legal barriers that can compel people to stay close to home.
Improving these models is crucial, because if governments know where people might go, they can prepare for what’s coming. For example, a city with great economic opportunities is likely to draw more migrants if a climate shock happens. If policymakers can get a better sense of how many people might arrive and when, they can prepare by directing investment to that area for affordable housing, hospitals, and schools.
I call the MIT piece hopium. Migration from climate-ravaged nations will not be orderly regardless of new technology attempting to make it so. Too much hate and desperation in the world for it to be otherwise.
The Sinaloa Cartel Is Controlling Water in Drought-Stricken Mexico in northern Mexico and California.
URIQUE, Mexico — Deep inside a canyon in the mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico—a place that’s accessible only by mule or on foot—locals haven’t seen this river full for over eight years. And now, the waterway is the property of the Sinaloa Cartel.
“Here, everything has an owner,” said a mid-level Sinaloa Cartel commander for the region, who asked to be called “El Señor.” “Rivers, creeks, lakes… everything, and especially water.”
During what Mexican authorities called the worst drought in the country’s history last year, thousands of local farmers—many of them Indigenous Raramuri people—lost their crops. But the Sinaloa Cartel saw a new business opportunity: the control and distribution of water.
Using water trucks, pipelines, and an army of lookouts, the cartel is siphoning water from lakes, rivers, and creeks in the mountains of the northern state of Chihuahua. The business model is twofold: The cartel wants to keep its own weed and poppy fields irrigated, and it wants to be the broker that supplies water to farmers, hotels, and other local businesses that have been left dry.