Aquifer Depletion and Pollution —a Red Flag

Patricia Carmona

If the annual loss of groundwater is similar to the size of the Presa Allende, and its recharge of that groundwater is currently only 25 percent of what is extracted, the actions of non-profits, government, and academic institutions are signaling the need for a paradigm shift, which includes the absolute necessity of re-introducing traditional ecotechniques, such as the recycling of waste water and the purification of surface waters.

Millions of cubic meters are extracted without authorization from the CNA, according to studies made by the Comisión Nacional del Agua (CNA), the Comisión Estatal del Agua (CAN) and Consejos Técnicos de Aguas Subterráneas del Río Laja (COTAS). Also permission was granted to extract almost four billion cubic meters a year more than should be allowed, according to Juan Carlos Solorzano of the CNA.

Therefore, the modernization of irrigation systems—34 percent to date—in order to save large volumes in the agricultural sector, (which uses 80 percent of the water) is a high priority on the agenda of the CNA.

According to Dylan Terrell, of CATIS-Mexico, recent data show that in more than 70 communities in the watershed, pollution levels are increasing each year. In San Luis de la Paz and San Diego de la Union, there are wells with 23.4 parts per million of fluoride, 15 times more than the official standard allows. These results have been certified at the laboratories of the University of Northern Illinois and University College London. CATIS-Mexico makes the data available to all interested.

According to Julio Bernal, measurements of the water quality in San Miguel are made by the Department of Ecology of the Municipality in coordination with SAPASMA. In turn, Veronica Fuentes reported that the CEA is creating the Water Quality Monitoring Network of the Cuenca Alta del Río Laja and San Miguel de Allende aquifers, based on the studies of COTAS, municipalities, and others. This network will now include those participating in this work table as well, confirmed moderator Agustin Madrigal, president of Salvemos Rio Laja. For its part, OCAS will ask the Ministry of Health of the Federal Government to address the problem of contamination with fluoride and arsenic in wells in the northern region of the state.

Paradoxically, public institutions as well as COTAS are faced with the reluctance of the rural population to accept the water purification system, rejecting all chemical additives. That is why the CODECIN works with 14 organizations and about 40 communities to promote green technologies and the introduction of purifying filters, construction of dry toilets, rain water capture, and other workshops. Enrique Orvañanos of SolSol explained that a six by four meter roof can fill a tank of 12,000 liters, free of fluoride and arsenic. A family without other water sources can survive on that amount for nine months. Participants also emphasized the need to capture rainwater not only in tanks, but also in micro-dams and ponds in order to gradually reduce the depletion of the aquifer.

The reuse of wastewater for agriculture is seen as another short-term option but such projects are often hampered by the changes in government. OCAS is also proposing that the results of the study sponsored by Amigos de la Presa to create a sewage treatment sedimentation lagoon for wastewater and rainwater be supported by this panel. This addition to the current treatment plant would help to prevent contaminated water from reaching crop fields and the Presa Allende. It is a proposal that has been submitted to SAPASMA and needs the support of other agencies. Again, the efforts of nonprofits and strategic municipal works need a continuity often endangered by the change of municipal government every three years.

The effectiveness of macro-dams and macro-production plants was questioned by the panel for they are economically unsustainable, while the micro projects, well distributed, are proven to be more effective. The CNA was asked, at the request of Ignacio Soto, president of Asociación Agrícola of San Miguel de Allende, to reconsider regional control for the rehabilitation and construction of ponds in areas of high erosion and desertification since the regulations for this alternative have been obstructing the projects.

There were several comments regarding the failure of the municipalities and the local municipal water authorities to address the needs of the entire population since they, in fact, serve only or primarily the urban center. The CNA is ready to support with financial resources the creation of water treatment systems when the municipalities are able to demonstrate the presence of fluoride or arsenic with an official document from the health department. In addition, the program known as PROSSAPYS (Programa para la Sustentabilidad de los Servicios de Agua Potable y Saneamiento en Comunidades Rurales) provides many benefits of which the municipalities are unaware “The mayors do not facilitate these projects and many end up returning money from their budgets in the absence of sufficient initiatives in the agricultural, economic and social development sectors,” said Jesus Arteaga.

Beatriz Acevedo, of the CEA, commented on the controversy regarding the administrative division of the aquifer. She explained that the activities that concern the aquifers and those concerning the surface water are different in each place. She emphasized that aquifers have their own geographical limits, but other divisions may be artificially applied for economic and agricultural purposes. Each region requires, therefore, individual management, and no public department can treat the entire watershed as an indivisible whole.

OCAS-SMA will be doing the follow-up of these agreements coming out of today’s meeting and announced the upcoming private meeting on Surface Water, to be held on October 28.


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