TIJUANA – Luis Ramirez leapt onto the roof of his shiny blue water truck to fill the plastic tank that by day’s finish would empty into an assortment of buckets, barrels and cisterns in 100 properties.

It was barely 11 a.m. and Ramirez had many extra stops to make on the hilly, gray fringes of Tijuana, a sprawling, industrial border metropolis in northwestern Mexico the place vans or “pipas” like Ramirez’s present the one ingesting water for many individuals.

“Each time, it gets farther and farther where we have to go,” he mentioned, blaming town’s water issues on drought and inhabitants development, earlier than leaping into the driving force’s seat subsequent to 16-year-old assistant Daniel Alvarez.

Among the many final cities downstream to obtain water from the shrinking Colorado River, Tijuana is staring down a water disaster pushed additionally by getting old, inefficient infrastructure and successive governments which have finished little to arrange town for diminishing water within the area.

Complete neighborhoods on Tijuana’s hilly and generally grassy far reaches stay unconnected to town’s water mains and pipes. Accessing water there’s a day by day wrestle — and an costly one, as trucked-in water normally prices way more than what individuals linked to town pay.

Taxi driver Aurelio Hernandez lives in one in all roughly 150 homes in a distant growth close to huge industrial parks that make aviation components within the metropolis’s south. Filth roads so steep they appear vertical result in the village.

“It is the biggest problem we have,” mentioned Hernandez, who has lived in Rancho el Chicote for 20 years, in regards to the lack of working water. Hernandez, his spouse and two daughters use about 1,585 gallons (6,000 liters) of trucked-in water monthly, he mentioned, which prices about 2,000 pesos or $116. The common U.S. household makes use of greater than 5 instances as a lot water every month, in response to the Environmental Safety Company, but pays much less, regardless of Mexico’s a lot decrease wages.

“Every year it’s the same. Politicians come and promise you things, but nothing ever changes,” Hernandez mentioned.

Even in center class neighborhoods, like homemaker Martha Muñoz’s in Tijuana’s fast-growing south, neighbors need to share updates on WhatsApp about doable shutoffs and coordinate requests to metropolis authorities when it is minimize.

“The state government is trying to bring some relief, but it will take time,” Muñoz said. “Meanwhile, it’s really hard every time there’s a burst pipe, because they leave us without water for five days.”

That’s what happened in April, when upwards of 600 neighborhoods — more than half of the whole city — went without water while the state water utility known as CESPT in Spanish, repaired leaks in a primary main.

For some, that shutoff lasted days longer than the official 36-hour estimate. Authorities admitted that given the size of the area affected, they could not send water trucks to many neighborhoods.

“People are left without water for way too long,” mentioned Jose Manuel Perez Reyes, who distributes trucked-in water, including that the federal government generally tells residents the shutoffs are to repair pipes when in actuality there merely is not sufficient water.

Even for the 700,000 customers, in response to CESPT, which can be linked to metropolis water, taps typically go dry, forcing them, too, to pay for trucked-in non-public water.

“It’s like playing whack-a-mole in terms of trying to see where things are going to pop up next,” mentioned Carlos de la Parra, a water guide and former professor of city research and the setting on the Colegio de la Frontera Norte who has studied water points in northwestern Mexico for many years.

Water utilities are struggling to maintain tempo with each Tijuana’s development, de la Parra mentioned, and about 8 to 10 years of neglect of infrastructure.

Then, there’s drought. Nationwide, greater than 44% of municipalities in Mexico have been in drought in Could, in response to Mexico’s Nationwide Water Fee. Tijuana’s challenges are acute as one of many nation’s fastest-growing cities in one in all Mexico’s most water-stressed states.

Answerable for working the water utility in Tijuana is Victor Amador, who, regardless of the day by day struggles for water within the metropolis, denied that faucets run dry besides when work is being finished on the pipes.

“We don’t have problems at the moment,” Amador mentioned. “For now, we have enough water.”

But that wasn’t the case in January when Tijuana shut off a water main to perform work and had to request about 540 acre-feet of emergency water from San Diego. (An acre-foot of water is equal to 326,000 gallons or 1.2 million liters.)

The water — available during times of acute need, but counted against Mexico’s share of Colorado River water — traveled through Southern California’s behemoth aqueducts and across the U.S.-Mexico border. Such emergency water transfers have taken place for more than 50 years, the San Diego County Water Authority said, and have been needed every year since 2018 except one.

More than 90% of Tijuana’s water comes from the Colorado River, traveling west across Baja California and over a 4,000-foot (1,219 meter) mountain pass through a single aqueduct that itself is often under repair. Over the past two years, Mexico’s share of Colorado River water was slashed by 7%, and while those cuts have yet to affect Tijuana, hydrologists and policy experts emphasize that the city and state of Baja California need to secure other water sources — soon.

Despite years of promises from federal, state and city officials to diversify Tijuana’s water supply using ocean water desalination and treated wastewater, the city has little to show for it. Amador said the government is working toward developing both.

“We’re living in this drought as if nothing were happening,” mentioned Manuel Becerra, a water guide primarily based in Tijuana and former metropolis superintendent of public companies.

Part of the challenge for Tijuana’s aging infrastructure is the city’s layout: water is pumped up and down steep hills and canyons to reach developments that have sprawled in every direction as the city has grown — 19% since 2010. Then there’s the estimated 7% of water that Tijuana loses to leaks, according to the state water utility.

“The topography of the area requires that water is pumped and re-pumped,” Becerra said. “Sometimes even though there is water, the pumps fail, the power fails, or the pipe breaks, and service is interrupted.”

On his fifth stop after re-filling his truck, water truck driver Ramirez descended a steep, gravel road to enter a neighborhood with about 100 homes not connected to city water. He stopped in front of a grey, two-story cinderblock home where retired construction worker Jose Trinidad and his wife move water from tank to bucket to bowl for bathing, cleaning and cooking.

Every month, Trinidad said he spends 1,600 pesos (about $91) for water. After food, it’s his largest expense.

“We spend a lot. It’s difficult, but we have to deal with it,” Trinidad said. “We have no choice.”


Video journalist Jordi Lebrija contributed to this report.


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