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Term ends for SAPASMA board

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

SAPASMA, the Water and Drainage Authority of San Miguel de Allende, employs 150 workers and is overseen by a five-member board. The utility manages 20 wells in the area that provide potable water and a sewer system that provides drainage for 60,000 inhabitants. In the upcoming months, the city council will conduct a job search to replace the board members, whose terms are ending.

Camilo Gutiérrez, who will finish his term on the board in early April, talked with Atención about the achievements and shortcomings of SAPASMA, including the situation at El Charco del Ingenio, the reserves of ground water in the municipality, and his plans after leaving the water company.

The SAPASMA council

SAPASMA is responsible for maintaining potable water and drainage services in San Miguel de Allende. It was decentralized from the municipal government in 1994, but according to its bylaws the city council must select SAPASMA’s board members, who hold that position for three years. After the members have been elected and sworn in by the city council, they have authority to elect their own president, secretary and treasurer. The current board of directors was elected on March 26, 2009, and was sworn in on April 7 of that year. Their three-year term ends in early April.

Gutiérrez, the president of SAPASMA, said “I believe and trust that the city council will analyze the profiles of those interested in being board members: their backgrounds, experience, honesty, responsibility and knowledge—not only of the workings of the water department but also technical administration and their knowledge of how the government works.” Gutiérrez made it clear that “without those elements the water department would not function.”

Achievements of the current administration

SAPASMA’s regulations state that the board members of the utility must give the city council a summary of their activities during their term. During the past three years SAPASMA focused on guaranteeing an adequate water supply, and for that reason they conducted studies and determined that the city has enough reserves of ground water for the next 15 years. Five wells were drilled, and one was decomissioned in el Ejido de Tirado because of high fluoride concentrations in the water. Currently 20 wells operate daily and are interconnected by a hydraulic network, which helps to ensure residents will have running water even if a well is not working.

El Realito Dam

In 2011, the construction of El Realito Dam was finished in San Luis de la Paz. Following an inspection in August 2010 by President Felipe Calderón, in his speech published by the National Commission of Water on its website the republic’s leader said that this project would provide running water for at least 50 years to residents of San Miguel and Celaya. According to CONAGUA, this dam can store close to 50 million cubic meters of water. Gutiérrez commented that according to a decree of President Calderón, of each cubic meter per minute, 16 percent will be destined for San Miguel and 84 percent for Celaya. “Although we do not yet have the infrastructure to bring the water, we started the process for obtaining financial resources,” Gutiérrez said.

Drainage system

The president of SAPASMA commented that currently 95% of the urban area has sewer service, and during his period as president this was extended on Calzada de la Estación. Nowadays they are performing work on Cuesta de San José, changing the pipes that are not useful anymore. He also said that Villa de los Frailes was constructed as a rural development and has not had a drainage system. They built septic tanks but did not use them correctly and some are out of service, so people have to divert waste water to the nearby campo, which could cause sanitation problems. For that reason, they started the construction of a water collector that will convey the waste water to the sewage treatment plant. The first stage, construction of the collector, will be paid for by SAPASMA, and the construction of secondary networks will be paid for by the residents of Los Frailes. This work will take almost two years.

Water treatment

Camilo said that the sewage treatment plant operated by SAPASMA currently treats 95% of the waste water in the city. Along with private investors they are working to construct another plant to be able to sanitize 100% of the water. He added that the employees of SAPASMA have been trained to offer improved service and attention to the general public, and he proudly pointed out that their accounting system was recognized in 2011 as being one of the three most trustworthy and secure in Mexico. “There are no expenditures if the list of requirements stipulated by the software is not complete,” he said.

SAPASMA’s shortcomings

“I would have liked to have been more insistent about coordinating better with the municipal government so we could have more resources and more waterworks, drainage and sanitation. I wanted to have that coordination, but it did not happen. I think that we could do more with better coordination and communication, and always looking toward the well-being of sanmiguelenses,” said Gutiérrez, who also commented that the municipality did not provide sufficient financial resources for water-related projects.

On December 29, 2011 the legal representative of El Charco del Ingenio A.C., César Arias, sent a letter to SAPASMA asking the water company to clean up the La Longaniza stream, which runs across Parque Landeta, connects with Presa de las Colonias and continues through the El Charco ecological preserve. This stream, according to the letter, filled with untreated waste water over a period of four days when the pumping system failed in Colonia Palmita de Landeta. Mario Hernández, director of El Charco, said that more than 300,000 liters of water overflowed the stream bank, and the stagnant water causes bad smells, threatens the flora and fauna of the preservation zone and poses health risks.

The representative of SAPASMA said that “it was not an error. The damage that caused the water leak was done intentionally by someone. We have employees who check the water supply system daily, but sometimes we are overcome by other necessities.We serve a population of 60,000 people, and as with any other system, we also have our problems and we must fix them.” He also commented that employees are currently cleaning up the stream and are investigating the cause of the mishap.

Hernández said that there is a sewage treatment plant on the grounds of Parque Landeta that has been operational for about 18 months. It was built by the State Commission of Water, which handed over it over to the municipality, and it later was handed over to the Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM). The treatment plant was built to sanitize the water from the Landeta water pit, and nobody knows why it is not working.

Possible political goals

“It has been a great experience to be part of the council,” said Gutiérrez. “The objectives of the new council will be clear: guaranteeing water service, drainage and sanitation for sanmiguelenses.” He concluded by saying that several groups from different political parties have been encouraging him to run for public office as a pre-candidate. He said he rejected the proposal of the PAN party and currently is analyzing the proposals of the PRD and PRI parties. After leaving SAPASMA, if he decides not to run for office he said would work as a lawyer and teacher at different universities.

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