Mexico City may soon run out of water

An aerial view of Mexico City, one of the biggest megacities in the world. Cesar Rodriguez/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Mexico City, a sprawling metropolis of nearly 22 million people and one of the world’s biggest cities, is facing a severe water crisis as a tangle of problems — including geography, chaotic urban development and leaky infrastructure — are compounded by the impacts of climate change.

Years of abnormally low rainfall, longer dry periods and high temperatures have added stress to a water system already straining to cope with increased demand. Authorities have been forced to introduce significant restrictions on the water pumped from reservoirs. “Several neighborhoods have suffered from a lack of water for weeks, and there are still four months left for the rains to start,” said Christian Domínguez Sarmiento, an atmospheric scientist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

Politicians are downplaying any sense of crisis, butsome experts say the situation has now reached such critical levels that Mexico City could be barreling towards “day zero” in a matter of months — where the taps run dry for huge swaths of the city. Densely populated Mexico City stretches out across a high-altitude lake bed, around 7,300 feet above sea level. It was built on clay-rich soil — into which it is now sinking — and is prone to earthquakes and highly vulnerable to climate change. It’s perhaps one of the last places anyone would choose to build a megacity today.

The Aztecs chose this spot to build their city of Tenochtitlan in 1325, when it was a series of lakes. They built on an island, expanding the city outwards, constructing networks of canals and bridges to work with the water. But when the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century, they tore down much of the city, drained the lakebed, filled in canals and ripped out forests. They saw “water as an enemy to overcome for the city to thrive,” said Jose Alfredo Ramirez, an architect and co-director of Groundlab, a design and policy research organization.

Their decision paved the way for many of Mexico City’s modernproblems. Wetlands and rivers have been replaced with concrete and asphalt. In the rainy season, it floods. In the dry season, it’s parched. Around 60% of Mexico City’s water comes from its underground aquifer, but this has been so over-extracted that the city is sinking at a frightening rate — around 20 inches a year, according to recent research. And the aquifer is not being replenished anywhere near fast enough. The rainwater rolls off the city’s hard, impermeable surfaces, rather than sinking into the ground.

The rest of the city’s water is pumped vast distances uphill from sources outside the city, in an incredibly inefficient process, during which around 40% of the water is lost throughleaks.

Comment: The article goes on to explain several more reasons why Mexico City is facing a potential disaster, maybe not in the next few months, but more likely in the next few years. Of course climate change is one of the reasons mentioned. The El Niño and La Niña oscillations have been plaguing the entire region, but those oscillations are climate cycles, not climate change. 

My concern with this issue is not climate change. It is what a collapse of Mexico City’s water supply will bring about for the 22 million inhabitants. The rich will find a way. A lot of those types will either make their way here or to some other haven. But what if the water supply collapses and millions of thirsty Mexicans head north to border? We’ll need a lot more than a big, beautiful wall to stop them. Perhaps if climate change shifts those atmospheric rivers south to Mexico and the rest of Central America, along with Mexico City planners getting a clue, that particular dilemma will be solved for us.


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31 Responses to Mexico City may soon run out of water

  1. leith says:

    Back in 1985 after the 8.0 earthquake, tens of thousands of residents fled to the Mexican countryside. The population has increased by at least six or seven million since then.

  2. gordon reed says:

    It is not so much water scarcity but overuse by too many people and agricultural interests. The American Southwest has the same problem, the hydrological system has been disrupted to promote growth in a desert region and it is unsustainable. An excellent book written in the 80s by Marc Reisner “Cadillac Desert” and a pbs series about his book predicted what is happening in the Southwest.

    • cobo says:

      “Cadillac Desert,” is one of the few books I’ve read twice. To complete the picture of western water, I suggest “Rivers of Empire” by Donald Worster. It compliments Cadillac Desert very well.

      Toward the end of Cadillac Desert there is a chapter on the North American Water and Power Alliance, NAWAPA:

      NAWAPA details a wonderful way for North America to work together as a region. Since its first suggestion, it has never been “politically” feasible. I still think it’s a damn good idea, with the addition of current desalination and habitat development techniques added in.

      And to all those good folks that like to resist doing ANYTHING about the long-foreseen water crises – I say, quite impolitely, go suck on your acre feet costs argument. You want to know real cost, run out of water.

  3. Barbara Ann says:

    A guy named Ramirez blaming Spanish Conquistadors for the problems of Mexico City’s infrastructure 500 years later is somewhat amusing. But then I guess if Mexico’s politicians were to be found at fault, rather than evil colonialists and Climate Change™, it might jeopardize the flow of Mexican government grant money to this guy’s design and policy research organization.

    Politicians are downplaying any sense of crisis..

    Ha ha, you bet they are. God forbid they should have to admit culpability for Mexico City’s long neglected infrastructure. I think a historical analogy is useful:

    Anthropogenic Climate Change in the modern religion of Scientism plays the equivalent role of Hellfire. Transgressions against the climate are the new sin and even Original sin has a secular equivalent, as we can’t breath without emitting the sin of Carbon. The Catholic Church’s institution of indulgence* has be repurposed as Green™ taxes of all kinds. A portion of the gubbermint ‘take’ goes to the priests of the Church of Climate Change (scientists) whose portents of climate evils are so essential for stoking fear of eternal damnation. Apocalypticsm is alive and well and masquerading under scary sounding pseudo-scientific terms like “day zero” (plus points for the Khmer Rouge overtones there). Heck if the zealots get their way, we might even see a reprise of the Aztec institution of human sacrifice, on a grand scale.

    Abuse of the indulgence racket was the main contributor to the Reformation. It will be interesting to see what form the contemporary equivalent reactionary force will take, once the credulous masses figure out how their fear & guilt are being cynically manipulated once again.


  4. Christian J. Chuba says:

    How similar is the climate between Mexico City and Southern California?

    The reason I ask is that I have noticed that S. Cal, has long periods of drought with occasional deluges of rain and as best as I can tell, most of it ends up in the Pacific Ocean. If Mexico has a similar pattern then the obvious thing to do is to build up reservoir capacity to capture the occasional large downpours.

    If the ground is hard because of lack of rain it will tend not to absorb heavy rainwater on its own.

    • TTG says:

      Christian J. Chuba,

      North and central Mexico has arid or semi arid climates. Don’t know about SoCal. Southern Mexico is tropical with monsoon seasons, but those monsoon seasons have failed recently. That’s what’s driving a lot of the migration from Central America. It also appears those atmospheric rivers don’t make it down to Mexico.

      • babelthuap says:

        NGO’s are driving it to include the Red Cross handing them maps with checkpoints. Mexico doesn’t have a water problem. It has a CIA and cartel problem.

  5. Fred says:

    Wow! 22 million new Democrats, just a climate change catastrophe away! I suggest they vote socialist a few more times and that ought to do the trick. Refurbishment of infrastructure? Why do that when you can export your problem?

  6. F&L says:

    President Macron of France working up a hearty thirst on the dance floors of Europe in his earlier days.

  7. Laura Wilson says:

    It is time to seriously sit down in a bipartisan fashion and re-work our immigration and naturalization system based up actual facts and probable future population migration. Ostrich in the sand and piecemeal grandstanding and Presidential orders of either party are not adequate to address what is going to come because of climate change. Time to grow up and address issues in a sensible, humane, and economically productive way. (P.S. 1 in 6 Americans will be turning 65 over the next very few years. We really might want some immigrants paying into the SSI system.)

    • Fred says:


      Yes, climate change will be so drastic as to set loose migration not seen since the collapse of the Roman Empire do to all those inbound populations. Maybe we should target the Chinese coal burning power plants and prevent any other country from building more – to save the Earth of course. Private jets and our personal autos excluded of course.

      • Laura Wilson says:

        And your point is? Snark won’t get any of us out of the mess we have created. Gotta solution? Gotta plan? A reasonable discussion?

        • Fred says:


          Have you given up your car? Have wheelies of Europe and elsewhere given up their private jet travel? Have any of the financial institutions and NGOs they direct stopped funding ew coal power plants in China, India or anywhere in Africa?

          You want a plan?

          1.climate change no fly list for all scientists and politicians who proclaim climate change needing our civilization to fix. Only electric (if proven to be non coal plant charged) or animal powered vehicles to be used at the UN in NYC.
          2.NATO(!) To create a power plant targeting list of all Climate Change harming sites so they can be destroyed- to save us all.
          3. Size all banks and arrest the executives thereof if found to be funding harmful energy production facilities anywhere on earth.
          4. Refer all politicians who propose or enact legislation which continues to cause climate change to the ICJ. I suggest starting with the newest president of Brazil. Please see the $100 billion infrastructure investment fund Petrobras as proof they are getting out of petroleum energy.
          5.sieze the waterfront homes of politicians who previously failed to save us from sea level rise. Start with the soon to flood mansion on Martha’s Vineyard of you know who.

          What’s your plan, besides demanding others come up with one?

          • Barbara Ann says:



          • TonyL says:

            I had a good laugh 🙂 Thanks for the rant. It was entertaining.

          • cobo says:

            Planning, for what? I don’t believe in human caused climate change, from cow farts and cars. I believe that we are shepherding weather systems using High Frequency Active Aural Ionospheric Heaters.

            I was so naive, watching the persistent jet trails… I was relying my stoneage weather/climate education. I thought they were occluding sunshine to change temperature and pressure gradients.

            How dumb could I be… They were actually creating electromagnetic corridors to channel weather systems where desired. And they are f’n good at it.

            I’m just a crazy old day and night tripper, but now even SEAL team guys are using plant medecine:

            I’ve said this before, “hahahahaha”

  8. Tidewater says:

    I will admit that I scarcely noticed, but the last two days have been the most extreme in climate history. Not just in Mexico.

  9. Lesly says:

    Tornado sirens in mid-Ohio this 5 a.m. February morning.

    I do think we’re causing, or at least speeding up, climate change. I do not think we’re responsible for the lack of foresight, planning and general not-giving-a-s**t attitude of foreign governments. We will have enough inertia to overcome here when the west / southwest megadrought gets so bad longstanding agriculture practices are threatened.

  10. Tidewater says:

    Arctic News reports on February 21, 2024, that the entire global Tropics –40 percent of the world’s surface and population– could be at risk through April of death by heat from WetBulb Globe Temperature if El Nino keeps going in the direction that it is going. Though, of course, such a catastrophe would require that the air moisture/humidity and heat line up to create this deadly climate condition. This happened in Sind Province, Pakistan in 2015 during Ramzan, when 1500 people died. If you were lying unclothed on a charpoy on a bougainvillea-shaded porch of a Karachi hospital without air conditioning you would die in six hours.

    If you don’t know what I am talking about, don’t worry, you will.

    • jld says:

      Al Gore already predicted this in 2009 for 2013, do you have any better evidence?

      • Tidewater says:


        The Tropics are 23.5 S to 23.5 N.; 0-360 E. On April 24, 2016, the highest temperature recorded in the Tropics was 26.8C. This
        was 1 degree Celsius above the 1979-2000 recorded levels. NOAA has expressed certainty that the current El Nino will persist through April 2024. On February 13, 2024, temperatures went above the 2016 peak; it was .3 degrees Celsius higher. What this means is that in the Tropics, anywhere over that vast mid-earth region, there is now enough heat –in places formed up and intensified under suddenly (mysteriously?) appearing heat domes– that can settle in over an area more than a thousand miles in diameter. (I was surprised to read that there were at one point last summer four heat domes out there, one or two over the US and another over the Atlantic towards Africa. I don’t know much anything about these heat domes.) If this intense dry heat meets conditions of significant moisture in the atmosphere (the humidity found in estuarial or coastal areas, particularly) then the conditions for WetBulb Globe temperature will form. And that is now possible all over the Tropics, at least through April.

        I am getting this particular information from Arctic News. I have been paying attention to this blog off and on for years. The name ‘Sam Carana’ associated with the person running this blog is a nom de guerre for a group of climate scientists, or so I think. I regard this blog as being sound. It has weathered many attacks.

        The headline for Arctic News on Wednesday, February 21, 2024, says, somewhat cryptically, “Tragedy Set to Unfold in the Tropics.” But it doesn’t explain what would kill “people, livestock, wildlife,” destroy food sources, and bring the survivors of a large population to their knees. I don’t think the writer, who may have been Kevin Hester, had the heart to spell it out, and it would seem to be at this point something yet only in the offing, though possible. I mean, like a million people or more dead from heat when the power grid fails. But Kim Stanley Robinson in his novel ‘The Ministry of the Future’ does indeed spell it out. I recommend the first twelve pages if you don’t want to read the book.

        Now as to Al Gore, I have never read what he had to say. But it ought to be understood that climate change–or climate collapse–has picked up speed. Records are being broken all over the world. Climate scientists are shocked. There has been, in my opinion, a false sense of security in what appeared to the general public to be a linear progression to climate change. Climate scientists knew that that was simply untrue, and recently –in the last few months–there have been sudden startling changes intensifying upwards across a whole series of identified climate threats that there is increasing fear that a tipping point has been reached. It is being watched closely and there are scientists in despair.

        In my case, I was curious about the 160-degree reading at Asalaya, Iran, not long ago; this was for the Heat Index there, not the WetBulb Globe temperature. Asalaya is on the coast across the Persian Gulf from Qatar. Sometimes I look at ‘The Peninsula’, the Dohaa newspaper. It is quite clear that the leadership of Qatar is working on building defenses against climate change, such as new desalination plants and large water storage, etc. I looked to see what the authorities there would do to alert their population about the danger of WetBulb Globe temperature. Say, a specific reading on a big electronic sign at the airport. I didn’t find it, though that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Certainly, laws have changed there about working hours during the day. Then, to my surprise, I was looking for hurricane news at the National Weather Service and I found that there is now a brand new, very good prototype for what they now dub simply WBGT!

        I played around with it. I knew at that time roughly what was going on in the south, and the Florida Keys. One hundred degrees heat and going deep under the sea surface. (Probably the bleached coral is gone, or will be soon.) The site is color-coded. I scrolled down from green to warmer orange to the reds and was not surprised until I moved to the Gulf Coast and Louisiana and up to Arkansas. You can click on any of innumerable tiny reference points and you will bring up weather conditions and temperature at that map location, including the WBGT probability, this being provided by such sources as say, a Pine Bluff, Arkansas newspaper, for example. The coloring of this whole region had turned death gray. I realized that the WBGT threat is here in the United States right now.

        • TTG says:


          The WBGT is something that’s been around since at least the mid-70s. It was an everyday part of Summer life at Forts Bragg and Benning (now Liberty and Moore). Reading were taken throughout the day at many places around post and posted/announced prominently. Once the WBGT reached certain thresholds, training was curtailed until safer conditions emerged. We often welcomed the no running restriction and joked about it getting so bad that we would be ordered to lay down under the trees and speak slowly. BTW, while in the SF course, we continued to run and hump heavy rucksacks when the rest of the post was under no physical training restrictions.

          In reference to the El Nino/La Nina cycle, one must remember that this a climate cycle. What is disturbing is that this cycle is getting more extreme. It’s much like the predator/prey cycle. It’s a dynamic process that can go on forever until the cycle swings get too large and the ecosystem collapses. I think the same thing is happening with climate cycles. Extreme weather many years ago start glaciers in the Antarctic and Greenland to start melting rapidly. Cooler weather returns, but the glaciers can’t return from the shock of melting caused by an extreme warm period many years ago.

        • jld says:

          Won’t a carbon tax fix all this?

  11. Tidewater says:

    It’s an area where I need to do more homework. It turns out that in that 2015 heat wave in Karachi, but also in India, some 3,500 people died. But then in Europe in 2003, it is now estimated that 60,000 died. Though dry heat will kill as well as WBGT–what I am inclined to simply regard as wet heat. As I see it, relative to the Tropics, the studies that say that a rise in average heat temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius globally will affect the WBGT in the Tropics, causing it to rise by a degree, must be considered. Certainly, there are conclusions from studies that the WBGT is rising. A killing temperature of 35 degrees Celsius WBGT established across the Tropics is an ultimate threat. That seems to be the warning from Arctic News.

    The question I have is this: In that kind of humid monsoon heat in Karachi in 2015 where the average temperature reached 49 degrees C and the WBGT must have reached 35 degrees Celsius, when it followed that a patient’s body would no longer have been able to cool itself, does that mean that the person on that charpoy would have stopped sweating? His or her skin would be hot but dry? Since the warm moisture in the air outside the body is the same as the temperature within? Unable to cool itself, organs fail, and the body gives up after six hours. No matter the physical fitness of the patient.

    • TTG says:


      I’m sure a physician can explain it better, but I’m pretty sure high heat and humidity hampers the body’s ability to sweat efficiently whether you’re in good physical condition or not. Without the ability to sweat, you die. On the other hand, the dry heat leads to greater efficiency and the risk of dehydration. Hence the habit of heavier clothing in arid climates to prevent that dehydration along with negating the heat of direct solar radiation on the skin.

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