Watch CBS News

One of the world's most populated cities is nearly out of water as many go "days if not weeks" without it

Mexico City facing water shortage crisis
Mexico City could run out of water in a matter of months 02:13

Mexico City is home to nearly 22 million people. But for months, the sprawling city has been suffering from diminishing water supplies — and now, one of the world's most populated cities is on the verge of a "day zero" where it will no longer have enough water to provide residents.  

Citing the Water Basin Organization of the Valley of Mexico, local outlet La Razón de México reported last week that officials fear this "day zero" — when the Cutzamala System will no longer have enough water for residents — could come on June 26 and last until September. Locals are already struggling to have enough water, with many going "days, if not weeks, without running water in their houses," CBS News contributor Enrique Acevedo said. 

"There's been water scarcity, water management, in the city that we haven't seen in at least a decade," he said. "Gyms here in Mexico City and other public parks had to start limiting the number of guests they have taking showers and using their facilities because a lot of people were taking advantage of their memberships to use water at those facilities." 

Local resident Juan Ortega told Reuters in January that among the rules implemented to try and conserve water is "cars are no longer washed." 

"The garden, the grass, is never watered, only the plants so that they don't die," he said. "We are going to start reusing water from washing machines for watering." 

One of The World's Most Populated Cities On The Edge of Water Scarcity
A woman fills a bucket with bottled water at an apartment unit in the Las Peñas neighborhood in Iztapalapa on February 27, 2024 in Mexico City, Mexico. TOYA SARNO JORDAN / Getty Images

Arturo Gracia, who runs a coffee shop in the area, said that his business has to pay for a water truck to supply water to toilets and other essentials. 

"It's affecting us a lot," he said. "And I don't think it's just us. This is happening in several neighborhoods." 

These issues have been exacerbated as Mexico City battled high temperatures last week. Mexico City's water system SACMEX said on Feb. 27 that temperatures were recorded as high as nearly 85 degrees Fahrenheit. This week, temperatures are expected to reach nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit with minimal cloud coverage, according to The Weather Channel

Conditions in Mexico City are so bad that on Tuesday, a rainwater catchment basin normally so green it's used as a soccer field or for grazing animals, caught on fire, the Associated Press reported. Seventy-five acres of land were burned by the fire, with the Mexico City fire department saying the flames were brought under control by late afternoon. 

It's an "unprecedented situation," Rafael Carmona, director of SACMEX, told Reuters, with a lack of rain being a major factor. Rainfall in the region has decreased over the past four to five years, he said, leading to low storage in local dams. A lack of overall water in the supply systems, combined with the high population, created "something that we had not experienced during this administration, nor in previous administrations," he said. 

Most of Mexico is experiencing some form of drought, with many areas experiencing the highest levels of "extreme" and "exceptional," according to the country's drought monitor. In October, 75% of the country was experiencing drought, the Associated Press reported, while the country's rainy season doesn't start until around May. 

One of The World's Most Populated Cities On The Edge of Water Scarcity
Women wash clothes on the dry banks of the Villa Victoria dam, which is at 30.5 percent of its capacity on February 28, 2024 in Villa Victoria, Mexico.  / Getty Images

On top of the drought, Acevedo said that "poor water management" has also been a major contributor to the problem. 

"We've had a lot of underwater leaks. ... Some figures say up to 40% of the water that's been wasted in the city comes from underground leaks. There's also some residential leaks," he said. 

Several leaks were reported by SACMEX at the beginning of February, which the supplier said it was working to correct. Many of those leaks were "caused by variations in the pressures of the hydraulic network," SACMEX said. 

Many have pointed to affluent residents as only exacerbating the situation.

In Valle de Bravo, an area frequented by the wealthy, the giant dam that feeds water supply for roughly 6 million people in and around Mexico City is running dry, Reuters reported, while hundreds of artificial lakes and dams – some only for artificial purposes – remain filled on private properties in the area. Citing government data, experts and local officials, Reuters reported the dam is at a historic low at less than 32% of its capacity. 

"I had the joy of seeing the reservoir fill up with water when I was 8 years old, and now I have to see how it is drying up," Mario Garcia told Reuters. 

Valle de Bravo municipal president Michelle Nunez told the agency it's "very selfish" for people to have private water bodies "when families depend 100% on this water." 

"We know this is not a local issue. It is not just happening in Valle de Bravo," Nunez said. "We understand that it is a global water crisis, but this is something that we are experiencing here, and we are living it up close. It is very, very worrying because hundreds of families are being affected." 

Not everyone believes "day zero" will come so soon. Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the government will be able to increase the water supply enough to avoid such an event this year, La Razón de México reported. Other researchers believe it's something that could happen in the years ahead. 

"It's not that we have a day zero coming up," Acevedo said, "but certainly we haven't seen things be as bad as they are right now in a while."  

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.