Severe fines could reduce water wastage

By Libera Lang

“Water is very expensive when you don’t have access to the system,” said Enrique Orvañanos during the fifth Water Dialogue of the OCAS–AguaVida campaign, which focused on the theme “Costs and Water Distribution.” The systems engineer with a master’s degree in business administration explained that, in the case of SAPASMA, water within a metered system is affordable. The alternatives are either bottled water, which is greatly inflated, or paying for a tank of water to be delivered to a home cistern, which ends up costing 6 to 10 times more than tap water.

Commercialized bottled water consumption is a result of being “bombarded” by advertising, commented Orvañanos. “Maybe the tap water we drank when we were young is as good as what we have today, but we are not aware of it anymore,” he said. Olvera Avila, head of the Rural Support and Institutional Management Department of SAPASMA, agreed that that there is a defamatory campaign from the US about the water we consume in Mexico. “I can assure you that we have different mechanisms for testing water and thus provide good quality. The results of our samples are available to the public,” he said.

There are 26,000 outlets within the piped water system in San Miguel, yet on average 5,000 to 6,000 families in the suburban areas lack service. “This is a relatively easy problem to solve,” said Orvañanos. “In a region like San Miguel, we can get an average of a half a meter or 60 centimeters of rain per year, which we could collect on our roofs—20 square meters in total—for domestic use. We are talking about 10 cubic meters of water or 10 water tanks. “If every house collected and treated rainwater we’d never run out of it. This should also be done on levees to infiltrate the aquifer.”

Orvañanos is familiar with the potential of rainwater harvesting, having headed a cistern construction project since 2008. The project, sponsored by the Midday Rotary Club and supported by the municipality, has constructed nearly 700 tanks in rural communities and villages capturing rainwater today.

In regard to the aquifer, engineer López Sánchez, director of marketing for SAPASMA, acknowledged that for every 100 liters extracted only 42 percent reaches its destination. To recover and redirect this water requires constant maintenance and infrastructure, and operating expenses are exorbitant. “Fifty-eight percent of the total budget goes to electricity payments, and 25 percent is put toward maintenance and operations; the rest is for infrastructure. Financial resources are always insufficient,” he said.

In 2010, at the state level, the cost of water was only 8.16 pesos per cubic meter per 5,000 liters. “That was a very low price compared to other services,” noted López Sánchez. Now there is a flat fee of 52 pesos, just to cover operating expenses. From 0 cubic meters and up the price changes in response to increasing water consumption. Someone who doesn’t use much water pays only the basic fee. However, one of the major problems that SAPASMA faces today, according to Olvera Avila, is that many do not pay their water bills on time.“Only a minority pay promptly. This is our ‘cancer,” he said.

According to Mario Hernández, director of El Charco del Ingenio, “What we pay for water services in the urban areas is shameful. The way we consume water, we should pay more.”

The fundamental problem of San Miguel is the inequity in its distribution, which Hernández describes as “water poverty,” not because there is water scarcity but because of the inequality in its access and distribution. There are many projects that require large volumes of water, while there are urban areas without water. “And you wonder: Where is the water that is extracted get directed to? Why does it run in one direction and not in another?”

This has to do with governance, not governing. “Governance is where different actors can participate in a decision-making collective. We have to seek agreements and common interests to manage water resources.”

There is a steady trend toward urbanization within extreme poverty conditions. “It is important to recognize that urbanization does not guarantee basic water infrastructure for a good life. It is pointless to migrate from the country to the city, to an urban slum.”

On the other hand, Olvera recognizes that in rural communities where they have suffered intense lack of water there is more awareness of its real value. The Potable Water Committees are responsible for managing the microsystems and have “set up severe punishments for those who waste water.”

SAPASMA operates primarily in the city, Olvera explained. In the rural communities it works differently. SAPASMA creates Potable Water Committees and determines rates, which are around 80 pesos a month and are based on electricity consumption, maintenance and perks for well operators. “Of the 545 rural communities in the municipality, 250 are organized in this manner,” he commented.

The next Water Dialogue will be held October 29 from 5pm–7pm. The discussion is titled “La Presa El Realito and Public Policies.” Please join us at the University of León, located next to Plaza Cívica in San Miguel de Allende.


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