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Mexico, the number one consumer of bottled water in the world

By Libera Lang

Mexico is the number one consumer of bottled water in the world and this is something we should think about, said Rafael Zárate at the fourth Water Dialogue of the AguaVida SMA campaign, addressing the topic Waste Management, Water Quality and Health.

“The bottled water companies are selling what we are supposed to have at home,” explained the president of the Board of the Centre for Innovation in Water Technology of Guanajuato. From the technical point of view, water is 100 percent reusable. We have the technology, but this has only been done with all the safeguards on the space stations.

In regard to San Miguel de Allende, it has had a wastewater treatment plant since the year 2000. “But it’s too small now for a growing population with an incredible amount of residential developments competing for water.”

Denia González, head of the Water Quality Department of SAPASMA said they are beginning to monitor 4,000 sample points in order to analyze what’s being dumped into the sewage system. This is done in the communities also, where they analyze the levels of contamination in the wells. “We know that every time we go deeper we find more natural contaminants.”

Ms. Gonzalez warned the audience about the damage done to the water treatment plant when people dump into the drain household chemicals like paint, muriatic acid, caustic soda, and detergents and used cooking oil. “Currently we are working with a group of young people known as Kids in Action. They receive used kitchen oil to turn it into biodiesel,” explained Jorge Montes, head of Social Communication of SAPASMA.

Someone from the audience asked if San Miguel should have a different water treatment plant. Denia González agreed there are other types of pre-treatments. “But I don’t think that our agency could afford to clean industrial waters. Our plant is biological.”

From the audience came another issue: using specialized natural wetlands to clean the water of streams like the Cachinches. Ms. González accepted that there are such wetlands, anaerobic techniques, inexpensive methods where you don’t have to pay electricity or equipment maintenance. What is expensive in San Miguel is the land, and water treatment of this kind would need hectares.

Financing the water management is a complex matter. Jorge Montes of SAPASMA referred to the new strategies of the current Board of Directors in order to promote a closer relationship with those users who pay regularly. “We need the funding to increase our infrastructure. We need better tools for water management. We have users that promptly pay their bills but others are way behind. With the correct monitoring equipment we could have a better control of what’s going on in all areas, including agriculture.” Denia promotes the idea of using water from other sources for agriculture irrigation, not just wells. “Farmers could use treated water. It’s quite an ambitious project, but so far the water treatment plant sells water only to the golf course.”

Enrique Orvañanos, moderator of this Water Dialogue, referred to the importance of rainwater catchment for domestic use, so far mostly being done in a few communities. “The last administration did something about it and the current one is interested as well. However, we also need to have a different rainwater drainage system in order to minimize the load that goes to the treatment plant,” explained Orvañanos. When rain goes into the creeks it carries all the trash and there is no wastewater treatment plant that is capable of cleaning that type of water.

José Abraham Soto, Director of the Social Participation Promotion Department of the State Water Commission of Guanajuato, confirmed the water stress in Guanajuato by giving precise data. “Statewide we are extracting 25 percent more than what is being infiltrated into the aquifers. The water level reduction is an average of one to three meters per year and that has severe consequences for water quality, which will require more sophisticated purification systems in order to remove the natural contaminants like arsenic, fluoride and others. This means we have to pay more for our water, so it´s a series of cause and effects.

The state governor has sent strict orders for immediate action to raise awareness, commented the representative from CEAG. All sectors of society must be sustainable: economic, environmental, health institutions, education, because, he explained, when we refer to water treatment, we are only talking about the central areas of the municipalities. We are forgetting the small communities without infrastructure for cleaning their wastewater.

Enrique Orvañanos concluded: “The problem is ours, so the solution must be ours as well.” He summarized all that was said in one basic concept: “citizen participation.”

The next Water Dialogue will be held at the Universidad de León, San Miguel de Allende, Plaza Civica, on September 24, from 5-7pm and will address the topic of Water Prices and Distribution.

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