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Residents of Mexico City on brink of 'Day Zero' disaster as water sources fall to historic lows: 'It is very difficult to think'

"It's a complex ball of wax in predicting whether or not we're actually going to run out [of water]."

"It's a complex ball of wax in predicting whether or not we're actually going to run out [of water]."

Photo Credit: iStock

Mexico City is on the brink of a disaster after a devastating combination of hotter, drier weather and inadequate management and infrastructure has left residents conserving every drop of water. 

What's happening?

One of the metropolitan area's primary water sources hit a historic low, pushing its 22 million citizens toward a disaster known as "Day Zero." According to The Washington Post, the crisis could reach a tipping point by June 26. 

The Cutzamala system supplies Mexico City with about 25% of its water but is operating at around 27% capacity, according to the latest data from the Basin Agency for the Valley of Mexico

Declining precipitation levels have contributed to the shortage, as records from the European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service show that the Cutzamala basin has had a decrease in rainfall by about a third over the last two years compared to the trend for the past four decades — as the Post noted

Furthermore, last summer's El Niño brought hotter and drier conditions to a country that has already experienced a 2.9-degree Fahrenheit increase since preindustrial times. The Research Program on Climate Change at the National Autonomous University of Mexico has also found that the urban heat island effect has caused some neighborhoods in Mexico City to be warmer by 5.4 to 7.2 degrees, all per the Post. 

"It's a complex ball of wax in predicting whether or not we're actually going to run out [of water]," Christina Boyes, an international studies professor at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City, told the outlet in late May.

"I'm not sure if it's going to rain or not, and that will make a huge difference," Boyes added, while acknowledging that some rain could "cause a false sense of security." 

The city's faulty water infrastructure has exacerbated these issues. Mexico's federal district water operator, SACMEX, has estimated that around 40% of water leaks out of pipes before reaching its final destination. That, along with overextraction from underground aquifers, has caused some parts of the city to sink, per the Post.

Repairs could reduce the leaking figure to just 10% but would cost billions of dollars, leaving some people skeptical of any fixes.

"It is very difficult to think that the Mexico City government will have this amount of money to invest in the network," federal congressman Gabriel Quadri de la Torre said.

Why is the water shortage important?

Mexico City's water crisis has forced residents of all socio-economic classes to adapt to a new reality. 

Some people in blue-collar communities travel to local wells to collect water and wash their clothes in public laundry areas. Even those residing in more affluent neighborhoods have had their taps run dry and expenses spike by 30%, the Post reported. 

"In Mexico City, there is a historical and critical issue of inequality in the access to water," National Autonomous University of Mexico doctoral student Fernanda Mac Gregor said. "We are already facing many warnings and they will continue to worsen, and not only in terms of water and climate change, but in terms of inequality and poverty."

What can I do to help?

While your town or city may not be in as dire a situation as Mexico City, it's a clear reminder of the effects of hotter temperatures driven by human activity. 

Making lifestyle changes, such as using cold water to do laundry, rewilding your yard, and capturing rainwater for your garden, can save tens of thousands of gallons of water each year.

Other adjustments, such as purchasing an EV or installing solar panels, may not seem like they directly affect the water supply. However, anything that can curb rising global temperatures and the severity of natural disasters can help preserve water sources before it's too late.

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