Nation seeks to increase resilience in a more extreme climate
Mexico came into the summer of 2022 with a drought emergency. Then, in a bitter but increasingly familiar irony of climate change, it was beset by deadly flooding.
In June, the northern state of Nuevo Leon declared the drought a matter of national security. Monterrey, Nuevo Leon’s largest city, began to limit running water access to 6 hours per day for millions of residents. In July, a “severe, extreme or exceptional” drought emergency was declared to help authorities impose special measures to protect water supplies, according to Conagua, Mexico’s national water commission.
On the hillsides, some neighborhoods had gone 50 days without water service, and protests broke out. Drought measures decreed that agricultural or industrial water users could be required to release their water, and bottling companies that continued to operate faced public ire. Water shortages in Baja California also sparked protests.
The drought emergency decree covered 70% of Mexico. Only Campeche, Colima, Chiapas, Mexico City, Guerrero, Nayarit, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, and Yucatán were exempted. By July, about two-thirds of Sonora was also experiencing the emergency.
From One Water Extreme to Another
Within two months, Sonora went from extreme drought to extreme flooding. The extraordinary rains caused floods that killed 13 people.
In a single day, the Guaymas-Empalme region received more than 18 inches of rainfall. More than 1,500 homes were destroyed in the flood, and the Army mobilized to help residents.
In Nuevo Leon, four deaths were attributed to flooding. In one 24-hour period in September, nearly 10 inches of rain fell on the city of Cadereyta Jiménez. Flash flooding struck several nearby cities, damaging buildings and roadways. Approximately 350 homes in and around Monterrey sustained damage, and 200 residents were forced to evacuate. Firefighters rescued 10 from flooded areas, emergency units helped rescue people trapped in 95 inundated vehicles, and four died when a vehicle was washed off the road. One motorcyclist was reported missing.
The drought is likely over now, with reservoir levels significantly higher than in 2021. It’s enough to irrigate two planting seasons and recharge aquifers significantly. Many reservoirs may reach their highest level in decades.
Putting Water Strategies in Place
Climate change is expected to continue throwing curveballs around the world. The Carbon Disclosure Project, a nonprofit that helps entities disclose their environmental impacts, recently estimated that the cost of preparing for water crises might be five times lower than reacting after they strike, and new strategies can help prepare water utilities for such catastrophes.
Desalination is one strategy that can reinforce water security near coastlines or above brackish aquifers. Green infrastructure absorbs the brunt of stormwater flooding. Wastewater recycling can maximize available water by augmenting supplies, so drinking water need not be wasted on nonpotable applications. In industry, a water management plan featuring reuse can help protect brands.
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