Drought in northern Mexico threatens survival

By FABIOLA SÁNCHEZ, Associated Press

SANTIAGO, Mexico (AP) — Late last year, restaurant owner Leticia Rodríguez celebrated the construction of a new lakeside boulevard in this northern Mexican city that she hoped would draw more people to her business. But now that La Boca Reservoir is almost empty, tourists have stopped coming on the boat, water skiing or just eating a meal.

Rodríguez had to let go of most of her staff in April and now runs the restaurant with her husband and children.

The deepening drought in northern Mexico not only complicates the daily life of residents, but in some cases also threatens their survival.

“The only hope is that it rains,” Rodríguez said. “That the tail of the hurricane comes so that the tank can recover, because that’s what kills us the most.”

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Last week, Mexico’s National Water Commission declared a drought emergency, allowing the government to take measures to secure water supplies. The state’s drought watchdog has placed nearly half of the country — nearly all of the north and central regions — under drought conditions.

The drought is linked to a weather phenomenon known as La Niña, the effects of which have been exacerbated by climate change. La Niña is a natural and cyclical cooling of parts of the equatorial Pacific that changes weather patterns around the world. In some areas, such as northern Mexico and the southwestern United States, this meant more drought.

The drying up of Santiago’s reservoir is not the only problem for the industrial hub of Monterrey, about 22 miles (35 kilometers) to the north.

Another reservoir that supplies the city, Cerro Prieto, is less than half of 1% of its capacity — essentially empty — and a third reservoir, called El Cuchillo, is 46% full, said Juan Ignacio Barragán, director general of Monterrey Water and Sewerage Services.

Under normal conditions, 60% of the city’s water comes from reservoirs, with the rest from deep and shallow wells and underground water tunnels.

Barragán said the city plans to expand the use of tankers to deliver water to more remote neighborhoods in the next two weeks.

To mitigate the worsening situation, the industrial and agricultural sectors of the state of Nuevo Leon have agreed to cede a significant portion of their water rights to the state. Still, experts say the next few weeks will be critical. If the normal arrival of rain in late August is delayed, the city’s water restrictions will have to be extended.

Aldo Iván Ramírez, a professor at the Monterrey University of Technology School of Engineering, said that while the situation in Monterrey is alarming – it accounts for 12% of Mexico’s GDP – “it is much worse in other places in the country.”

The city faced serious droughts in 1998 and 2013, but it’s more complicated now that only El Cuchillo still has water, he said.

This year’s water crisis still surprised many in the city. Few homes had water storage tanks. Many people have now taken steps to conserve water.

“I think this crisis has made people think a lot,” Ramírez said. “I would hate to see a hurricane alleviate this crisis and everyone forget about it because that would be the worst thing that could happen to us.”

In Santiago, Rodríguez, a restaurant owner, said that before it dried up, hundreds of tourists came to the reservoir every weekend.

One day she pointed across the muddy lakebed to an abandoned restaurant, deep in the lake, where guests arrived by boat. It was closed earlier this year when the water receded and tourists stopped coming.

“For me, this is worse than the pandemic, because at least there were people in the pandemic,” said the 54-year-old native of Santiago.

Now ducks walk in the shallow water around the end of the dock where tourists used to board boats for lake cruises.

Juan Pérez, 65, who was sitting in one of the seats of the former floating dock, said he lost his job along with 60 others when the company that provided the boat tours collapsed earlier this year. Now he survives by working as a janitor in the city.

“It’s sad to see it like this… it’s worse than a cemetery,” Pérez said, recalling the festive atmosphere that used to reign here on weekends.

Authorities are trying to get as much of the remaining water out of La Boca as possible.

They installed a floating pump that they hope will pump about 105 gallons (400 liters) of water per second to be piped to Monterrey, said engineer Raúl Ramírez, whose company installed the pump. They planned to leave enough water to keep the rest of the aquatic life alive.

Standing on a dry lake bed that was covered with water months ago, Ramírez said: “We were warned about the possibility of this happening since last year and unfortunately as a society we didn’t listen, we didn’t want to understand . “

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