Case study of the June 2013 ecocide in Hurtado Reservoir, Jalisco

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Case study of the June 2013 ecocide in Hurtado Reservoir, Jalisco
Jul 042013
 

This post presents a short case study of the dramatic ecocide in the Hurtado Reservoir in Jalisco a week ago that resulted in the sudden death of between 200 and 500 tons of fish.

What?

  • The ecocide killed between 200 and 500 tons of fish
  • 30 local residents were affected by gastrointestinal problems
  • 15 of them required treatment in local health centers
Local fisherman sees his livelihood disappear. Credit: Vanguardia

Local fisherman sees his livelihood disappear. Credit: Vanguardia

Where?

The ecocide occurred in the Hurtado Reservoir (Presa del Hurtado, aka the Valencia Dam) in Jalisco, mid-way between the villages of San Isidro Mazatepec and Bellavista, the location of a sugarcane mill (see map). The reservoir can hold up to 8,000,000 cubic meters of water. The two municipalities involved are Acatlán de Juárez and Tlajomulco de Zúñiga. The most affected community is the small village of San Pedro Valencia (about 300 inhabitants),

Location of Hurtado Reservoir (extract from INEGI 1:250,000 map)

Location of Hurtado Reservoir (extract from INEGI 1:250,000 map)

When?

The first reports were made on 25 June when a local government official in San Pedro de Valencia, in the municipality of Acatlán de Juárez, reported to state environmental protection officials that the water in the Hurtado Reservoir was contaminated with something smelling like molasses. Within 48 hours, officials had identified the source, and had conducted a formal inspection, reporting that the water was dark brown in color and contaminated with molasses.

Why?

According to press reports, an unlicensed firm in nearby Potrero los Charros was using molasses (a by-product of sugarcane mills) as an ingredient to make cattle food. Some of the molasses (melaza) was dumped into the San Antonio stream which carried them into the reservoir.

The problem arose because molasses have a very high biochemical oxygen demand (BOD). This means that they require large amounts of oxygen as they decompose. In this case, they required more oxygen than was available in the water in the reservoir, reducing the water’s dissolved oxygen content, effectively depriving all aquatic life of oxygen. While final results are pending, the fish are believed to have died of oxygen starvation.

Effects

  1. The local fishing cooperative of the Hurtado Reservoir has agreed to accept a moratorium on catching, selling or consuming local fish. The fishermen normally catch and market about 100 kg of fish a day.
  2. Health services are offering vaccinations to local residents and all those involved in the environmental clean-up.
  3. 18 local restaurants are closed until further notice. When they reopen, they will likely have to purchase fish from further away (eg the fish market in Guadalajara) at a higher price than they previously paid for local fish
  4. About 100 fish traders in nearby towns (including Tala, Acatlán de Juárez and Villa Corona) have lost a source of income.

Responses

  1. Within 48 hours of the first report, authorities had ordered the business responsible for the pollution to take immediate remedial action. Meanwhile, authorities began to clean up the dead fish. The fish are being buried in a 30 meter by 2 meter trench about one km away from the lake.
  2. Federal officials from the National Water Commission and the Environmental Secretariat were quickly on the scene; they promised access to federal financial assistance.
  3. Most of the clean up was carried out by about 100 local fishermen and volunteers, including firefighters.
  4. State health officials have closed the 18 small fish restaurants near the lake until further notice
  5. Local officials are also cleaning up the storage area, using tanker trucks to remove an additional 8,000 tons of molasses for appropriate disposal elsewhere.
  6. The municipality of Tlajomulco has issued the owner of the company with a fine of about 1.5 million pesos ($120,000) and further legal action is underway.

Remediation

  • Environmental expert Gualberto Limón Macías estimates it will take between two and four years to rehabilitate the reservoir. The priority is to re-oxygenate the water, possibly using solar-powered pumps, and seed the reservoir with young fish.
  • The University of Guadalajara has promised to arrange for a team of experts to provide specialist advice about how best to rehabilitate the lake.

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May 272013
 

Kudos to the Earth Island Institute for responding to the many criticisms we and others made of a blog article (“Water Pollution Plagues Mexico’s Scenic Pacific Coast”) by pulling it from their website. The following post has been edited to reflect that fact.

Water quality is a serious concern in many parts of Mexico and Geo-Mexico regularly includes short articles about the main issues as well as case studies related to water pollution (see “Related posts” below).

Ron Granich, a regular Geo-Mexico reader who lives in Pátzcuaro (Michoacán) and recognizes our keen interest in Mexico’s water quality kindly drew our attention to a recent article published on the website of the Earth Island Journal. Sadly, the blog article left much to be desired. The article was subtitled, “Tourists largely unaware that industrial pollution from rivers upstream is making them sick”, and attempted to argue that the pollution of Mexico’s Santiago River is a direct cause of the poor water quality of beach towns such as Sayulita.

The slight problem with this thesis is that the Santiago River flows nowhere near Sayulita and has no connection to the miniscule Sayulita River, far to its south (see map). There is no question that the Santiago is polluted. It collects serious pollutants from the major industrial area of El Salto (a short distance southeast of Guadalajara) and from Guadalajara, and from many smaller settlements along the way. More contaminants are added near its mouth, where the swampy delta has been transformed into productive fields, including tobacco plantations.

Main rivers of Western Mexico.

Map of the main rivers of Western Mexico. Credit: Tony Burton / Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved.

Pollution of the River Santiago is particularly evident at the Juanacatlán Falls near El Salto:

After the Juanacatlán Falls, the Santiago flows in a deep, steep-sided canyon for most of its course (which explains why no fewer than three major dams for hydro-electric power have been built along this stretch, including the one at La Yesca) before meandering across its delta to flow into the Pacific Ocean a short distance north of San Blas.

The Santiago River has no conceivable influence on the pollution levels in the rivers near Sayulita and San Francisco or indeed on beaches in their vicinity. This is not to say that those beaches are clean. The beaches of the Nayarit Riviera may indeed have high levels of Enterococcus spp, as we reported recently when looking at the murky world of water statistics in Mexico.

Note on clean water standards in Mexico and the USA:

It is sometimes argued that Mexico and the USA have different standards for what represents “clean water”. For marine (beach) environments, the U.S. limit is 35 Enterococci per 100 ml. of water, and is based on calculating a geometric mean of counts performed over a five week period. This method greatly reduces the impact of peak Enterococci counts. However, the Mexican limit of 100 Enterococci/100 ml. is based on a single sample maximum value. As explained in this US EPA technical document, Water Quality Standards for Coastal Recreation Waters: Using Single Sample Maximum Values in State Water Quality Standards, the two limits are approximately equivalent in terms of water quality. In other words, a geometric mean of 35 Enterococci/100 ml. means that the water is about as clean as a single maximum value of 100 Enterococci/100 ml.

Water quality IS a major concern in much of Mexico, and we applaud the Earth Island Institute for seeking to draw attention to the issues involved, and for their recent action in removing the original article, which helps to ensure that discussions of these issues are based on facts and not on misconceptions.

As always, we welcome discussion about this (and all our posts) via the comments feature. If the comments feature is not visible, simply click the title of the relevant post, and scroll down.

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Swim at your peril through the murky data for Mexico’s beaches

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May 062013
 

In the past few months, it has become harder than ever to assess the cleanliness of Mexico’s beaches. Alejandro Calvillo, director of the consumer rights organization “El Poder del Consumidor” recently published an alarming blog post alleging that Mexican authorities have gone to considerable lengths in recent months to mask the true state of Mexico’s contaminated beaches. (Playas contaminadas en México, un secreto de Estado)

Drain on Mocambo Beach, Veracruz. Credit: La Voz del Sureste.

Drain on Mocambo Beach, Veracruz. Credit: La Voz del Sureste.

Calvillo explains that for several years, government agencies published regular monthly statistics relating to the cleanliness of all the country’s major swimming beaches. While some people queried the veracity of some figures, at least the data was publicly available, and provided some starting point for analysis and discussion. Indeed, this data allowed us to write in Geo-Mexico (p 46) that,

“Coastal waters are also regularly monitored for contamination. The percentage of Mexico’s resort beaches that met national water quality norms rose from 93.7% in 2003 (when 226 beaches in 35 destinations were tested) to 98.4% in 2007 (276 beaches in 46 destinations). Seawater at all coastal resorts is now well within the national standard except for Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo on the Guerrero coast.”

However, soon after the new administration (of president Enrique Peña Nieto) took office, Calvillo claims that a decision was made to cease releasing regular monthly data for beach contamination and to remove the historical time series of beach cleanliness data from government internet sites (such as those of the Health Secretariat and Environment Secretariat). Fortunately, Calvillo’s claims are not the whole truth. Data are still being published for many beaches, via an interactive webpage titled Playas Limpias (Clean Beaches) hosted by the Health Secretariat. However, it does appear to be true that the historical series of pre-2013 data have vanished, and that no data is available, even in 2013, for several beaches that were previously regularly monitored.

There is no doubt that in recent years hundreds of Mexican beaches have on occasion had excessive levels of Enterrococos faecalis, the main bacteriological indicator. (About a decade ago, counts of Enterococcus spp. replaced fecal coliform counts as the best way to assess the water quality at public salt water beaches.) The major source of contamination, despite years of campaigning by environmental groups, comes from hotels, towns and cities that continue to dispose of their effluent directly into the sea, often in close proximity to popular swimming beaches (see photo). Progress has been made in some states, including Jalisco, Nayarit and Veracruz, but there is still a long way to go.

water quality on beaches

Water quality on Mexican beaches, 2011. Source: Atlas Digital del Agua México 2012;
(green=good; yellow=moderate; red=poor)

Calvillo writes that official reports in 2011 (see map) listed 99 beaches where Enterococus levels had been found in excess of 200 Enterococci/100 ml of water on at least one occasion. Values over 200 Enterococci/100 ml are considered to pose a “health risk”, according to Mexican norms. Of these 99 beaches, 70 were on the Pacific coast. The worst beaches included 1 in Baja California Sur (La Paz), 4 in Nayarit (including Sayulita, Rincón de Guayabitos), 3 in Jalisco (including Playa del Cuale in Puerto Vallarta), 10 in Michoacán (including Caleta de Campos, Chuquapan and Playa Nexpa) and 3 in Guerrero. In the worst locations, the Enterococci count was over 20,000/100 ml.

Of the 29 beaches with excessive values on the Gulf of Mexico and on the Caribbean coast, the most polluted were on the Gulf of Mexico, including locations in Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Campeche.

In summer 2012, the 22 beaches that posed a health risk according to the data included Regatas (Veracruz), Rincón de Guayabitos (Nayarit) and Playa Carabali (aka Playa Hornos) in Acapulco (Guerrero).

Despite having made less data available for 2013, in the days leading up to the 2013 Easter vacation period, federal and state government officials repeatedly stressed that all beaches were clean and ready to receive the anticipated hordes of holidaymakers. It is difficult to assess the accuracy of these claims in the absence of more data. Were the beaches really clean, or were tourists in some destinations risking potentially serious gastrointestinal and other diseases every time they went swimming?

Adding another layer of complexity to interpreting the statistics is the fact that several states have massaged the data tables by selectively changing the names of some beaches, and omitting others. For example, Calvillo points out that in 2011 the state government of Veracruz renamed four beaches that had previously experienced high pollution levels so that their historical records would be hard to find:

  • Costa de Oro I became Gaviota II
  • Iguana Norte was renamed Tortuga II
  • Iguana Sur became Pelícano II
  • Penacho del Indio was renamed Pelícano I.

In 2012 Veracruz removed two beaches from its list completely: Iguana Centro and Acuario, which it deemed “no longer of interest to tourists,” perhaps because its 2009 count was a record-breaking 159,490 Enteroccocus/100 ml.

Veracruz is not the only state to have “tweaked” its data. Jalisco decided (in 2009) not to monitor either Conchas Chinas or Boca de Tomatlán, both of which had registered high levels of contamination in previous years. In the state of Guerrero, the main beach in Zihuatanejo (historically one of the most polluted beaches) has not been monitored since 2011 because of “technical problems”. [Note: Measurements began again here in 2013, at about the time this post was first published.]

The moral of this post? The absence of data for any particular beach should not be taken as indicating that it is not contaminated. On the contrary, the absence of data might perhaps better be interpreted as a sure sign that the beach HAS or MIGHT HAVE a problem!

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Pemex boosts reserves and reduces its emissions

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Pemex boosts reserves and reduces its emissions
Dec 032012
 

It may come as something of a surprise to many observers, but during 2012, Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex (Petróleos Mexicanos) has received several well-deserved plaudits for its efforts to slash the emissions associated with oil and gas exploration, reserves and production.

For the fifth consecutive year, the Global Reporting Initiative awarded Pemex the highest possible rating for social responsibility. The company also received excellent ratings for sustainable asset management. During 2011, Pemex’s proven reserves increased 1.1%, while the petro-giant cut total emissions by 17.3% compared to the previous year. Crude oil output averaged 2.55 million barrels a day in 2011. Carbon dioxide emissions were down 8.8% in 2011, while sulfur oxides have now fallen more than 50% since 2007.

Meanwhile, the production division of Pemex has been praised by World Bank experts for having reduced burn-off from its giant Cantarell gas field from 31% in 2008 to 3% in July 2011. Pemex has invested more than 1.6 billion dollars in the Cantarell field over the last six years in order to improve efficiency, with the installation of compressors, flow separation devices and re-injection technology. In the past three years, it has reduced total emissions, including greenhouse gases, from 13.6 billion cubic meters a year to 2.1 billion. Pemex is well on track to beat its target of 99% efficiency in gas recovery by 2014.

Crude oil production has risen steadily in 2012. For example, in August 2012, Pemex produced 2.56 million barrels of oil a day (b/d), its highest output since May 2011. The Chicontepec field in Veracruz is doing especially well. Its single best-performing well, named Presidente Alemán 1565, uses innovative technology, including three dimensional seismic mapping and horizontal drilling, to yield as much as the combined output of 28 other wells in the region.

Mexico’s current 3P (proven, probable, possible) reserves are also on the rise, and currently total 43 billion barrels of crude oil equivalent. After years of depletion, Pemex is now adding more oil and gas each year to its reserves than it is extracting. The oil giant recently announced a huge deep water, light crude discovery in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Tamaulipas, its first major find in the Perdido Fold Belt, where the total 3P reserves could be as high as 10 billion barrels. The Trión-1 well, drilled to a total depth of 4,500 meters (14,800 feet), is 40 km (25 miles) inside Mexico’s territorial waters and is expected to yield up to 400 million barrels of high quality crude.

Pemex also recently reported the largest land-based discovery of oil for about a decade. The Navegante-1 well, drilled in the South-East Basins 20 km from Villahermosa (Tabasco) found light crude oil with an APR gravity of 45 degrees, at a depth of 6800 meters. The field is 87 square kilometers in area and has estimated 3P reserves of about 300 million barrels of crude oil equivalent.

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The geography of tequila: trends and issues

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Sep 152012
 

The production and export of tequila has been one of Mexico’s major agro-industrial success stories of recent times. In this post, we look at some of the related trends and issues.

Rapid rise in production

For the period 2009-2011, Mexico produced about 250 million liters of tequila a year. Of this total, 60% was “100% agave tequila“, where all the sugars are directly derived from the Agave tequilana weber azul, and the remaining 40% was “mixed tequila” (tequila mixto) where at least 51% of the sugars are from Agave tequilana weber azul, but the remaining sugars come from other non-agave sources.

Tequila production, 1995-2011. Data: Tequila Regulatory Council.

Tequila production, 1995-2011. Data: Tequila Regulatory Council.

This is a dramatic increase compared to the period 2001-2003, when the average production was about 140 million liters a year. During that period, 100% agave tequila contributed only about 20% of the total. The relative importance of 100% agave tequila has clearly increased very rapidly in the past decade.

Agave supply: from shortage to glut

While there is a clear upward trend in total production, there are periods where production has fallen, most recently from 2008 to 2009, when production fell by 60 million liters. One of the possible reasons for a short-term blip in tequila production is if there is a shortage of agave. Agaves take about 10 years to mature, so there is a lengthy time lag between planting and the first harvest of newly planted areas.

As demand for tequila has risen, some of the major producers have experienced temporary shortfalls and been unable to source as much agave as they would have liked. One of the consequences was that independent agave producers entered the market, seeking to profit from such periods. Such independent producers could do well, provided they were able to predict agave shortages a decade in advance. During the 1990s, hillsides all over Jalisco were planted with agave, many for the first time, providing a significant boost to agave supply a decade later.

Not all independents came out of this on top. The supply of agave now exceeds demand. Many of the major tequila companies have increased their own acreage of agave, or have signed forward-looking contracts with major independent growers in other areas of the designation of origin zone. Many independent agave farmers are losing out; they planted agave a decade ago, but failed to forecast the current glut.

Tequila makers currently consume about 1 million metric tons of agave a year. The Agriculture Secretariat estimates that there are about 20,000 independent growers who have no contracts, and 223 million agave plants of diverse ages for which there is no current or short-term market. As many as 30 million agave plants were considered “very mature” in 2009 and a total loss in 2010. It is likely to be several years before the production of agave falls back to a level sustainable with demand.

Exports continue to rise

Tequila exports have risen very rapidly since 2001, with only minor anomalies along the way. Mexico currently exports about 160 million liters a year. Tequila exports have performed well despite the now lengthy economic woes being experienced by the major importing countries.

Foreign ownership

Mexico’s tequila makers have undergone a similar experience to the country’s major brewing companies, in that all but one of the major tequila firms are now owned by foreign corporations. A proposed deal in which the last of the big Mexican tequila companies, José Cuervo, would also have been taken over by British firm Diageo (which owns Baileys, Johnnie Walker, J&B, Smirnoff, Captain Morgan and Guinness) was called off in December 2012.

Environmental concern

The major environmental problem associated with tequila making is wastewater. For every liter of tequila, 10 liters of wastewater (vinazas) are produced. The vinazas are nitrogen-rich, and contain high concentrations of chemicals, including heavy metals and salt.

The National Chamber of the Tequila Industry recognizes that only about 60% of vinazas are disposed of properly. Most of the remaining 40% (about 2.5 billion liters in 2008) are thought to be pumped untreated into local streams and ponds, damaging the ecosystem and destroying stream life.

The Mexican government fines distilleries that do not have adequate treatment plants for the vinazas they produce, but in the past many companies have opted to pay the fines rather than solve the problem at source.

The vinazas problem was one of the reasons why UNESCO recently considered revoking the Tequila region’s World Heritage status, awarded in 2006. Another issue that made UNESCO unhappy was a recent decision to locate a landfill site in Amatitán in the center of the World Heritage zone. In the end, UNESCO officials agreed that progress was being made; the area kept its heritage status.

There is hope on the horizon. A new cost-effective option for tequila firms seeking to dispose of viñazas has been developed by a local corporation Tecnología Nacional de Aguas. Called Proshiemex, it uses the viñazas to produce methane-rich biogas which can contribute to heating the boilers of the tequila distilleries. The remaining sludge can be easily treated in accordance with all applicable environmental norms.

Source of data:

  • Tequila Regulatory Council Statistics

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Two examples of Mexico-USA trans-border water pollution

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Two examples of Mexico-USA trans-border water pollution
Aug 092012
 

In a previous post – Update on the severe drought in northern Mexico – we mentioned two cases where water was being transferred across the Mexico-USA border and where it was proving impossible to meet the terms of existing water treaties in the face of the severe drought in northern Mexico and the southern USA.

In this post, we look at two examples where the major trans-border concern is about water quality not quantity.

Case 1: The New River, California

The New River begins in Mexico as the Río Nuevo and receives agricultural runoff and industrial and domestic wastewater from the 1,000,000 or so residents of the metropolitan area of Mexicali, where a water treatment plant now operates. The New River then crosses the border northwards into California (west of the Colorado River) and flows into that state’s largest lake, the Salton Sea. The New River is about 130 kilometers long, with only the first 25 kilometers in Mexico.

The trans-border drainage basin of the New River

The trans-border drainage basin of the New River. Credit: IBWC.

The New River has a long history of high pollution levels, well documented in this Wikipedia entry: New River (Mexico – United States) and is possibly the most polluted river of its size anywhere in the USA. It is also one of the routes used by undocumented migrants entering the USA, as pointed out in this 2-minute video:

The California-Mexico Border Relations Council’s technical advisory committee recently announced a strategic plan to start cleaning up the polluted waters of the New River. In the Californian border city of Calexico, the plan calls for the installation of a 90-million-dollar water disinfection system and trash screens. Downstream, it also includes the creation of water-filtering wetlands in parts of the Imperial Valley, one of the USA’s most important agricultural areas. The strategic plan will also develop an integrated water quality monitoring and reporting program, so that changes in water quality can be quickly traced to source and any necessary cleanup measures can be implemented. The condition of the New River has been improving in the past decade, but much work remains to be done.

Case 2: Wastewater in Nogales, Arizona.

Further east along the border, Arizona state officials are suing the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) for violations to the United States Clean Water Act, alleging that untreated Mexican industrial wastewater, mixed with domestic sewage, continues to cross the USA-Mexico border into the city of Nogales, Arizona. The suit claims that the wastewater has levels of cadmium, cyanide and ammoniacal nitrogen well above legal limits. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is demanding that the IBWC install an industrial waste treatment system at the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant.

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Jul 192012
 

A short Global Post video offers a valuable, up-to-date teaching resource about Mexico City’s latest attempts to tackle air pollution, and lower carbon dioxide emissions:

The video provides an introduction to Mexico City’s “green transportation revolution”, in which electric vehicles are gradually being phased in to replace conventional taxi fleets, bicycle routes are created, modern, fuel-efficient buses extend their coverage, and biodiesel buses have been introduced along a major arterial route. The initial priority has been on the downtown area of Mexico City, the Historic Center (Centro histórico) . This 3.5-square-kilometer area receives 70,000 vehicles a day, responsible for emitting 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. Pollution in this area has been reduced significantly in recent years. City authorities use the Historic Center as a testing ground for pollution-reduction strategies, prior to rolling them out elsewhere across the giant metropolis.

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Greenpeace demands action to clean up Mexico’s surface waters

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Apr 052012
 

Greenpeace activists chose the Juanacatlán Falls (“The Niagara of Mexico”) for their latest protest to call attention to the poor quality of Mexico’s rivers and lakes. They cited government statistics that show 70% of Mexico’s surface water is contaminated. Most of the pollution comes from industrial dumping, rather than municipal sewage.

It is hard to imagine a better choice. The activists, clad in protective clothing and wearing masks to avoid inhaling toxic gases, paddled kayaks into the River Santiago immediately below the malodorous falls and unfurled banners with slogans such as “Mexican rivers, toxic rivers” (see image).

Greenpeace activists at El Salto de Juanacatlán, 22 March 2012. Photo: Greenpeace.

The activists called on the government to commit to a policy of zero dumping of toxic substances into rivers and lakes by 2020, with sanctions for actions leading to pollution and its effects.

In a coordinated action, thirty NGOs in Jalisco announced the creation of the “Broad Front in Defense of Water and Against Privatization ”, demanding actions towards a fully sustainable use of water. They asked government to take the lead in cleaning up the Santiago River and provide urgent medical attention for residents of communities affected by its high level of pollution (see this blog post). They also called for an end to the privatization of water services.

José Luis Luege, the head of Mexico’s National Water Commission (Conagua), the government body overseeing all Mexico’s water resources, recently presented a portfolio of programs for the country’s 13 water regions which are designed to make Mexico’s water usage sustainable.

Conagua calculates that Mexico currently uses 78.4 million cubic meters of water a year. Of this amount, 66.9 billion cubic meters is taken from surface and underground sources (and is fully sustainable), while about 11.5 billion cubic meters come from the unsustainable use of aquifers, where the rates of abstraction exceeds replenishment. The new programs are designed to reduce and eventually end unsustainable aquifer use, replacing it by a mixture of water-saving programs and by building the necessary infrastructure to obtain more water from sources believed to be fully sustainable.

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Value-added from solid waste in Mexico

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Dec 142011
 

In a previous post, we looked briefly at the role of plastics recycling in Mexico City’s waste separation program. In this post, we describe two other developments related to solid waste disposal.

Recycling finally reaches the take-off point in Mexico

Nationwide, it took an entire decade for the plastics recycling rate in Mexico to increase from 10 to 15%. Then, in 2010, as more companies sought part of a potentially very lucrative market, the rate shot up to 17%. Admittedly, though, Mexico still lags far behind the 22% rate boasted by the European Union members in this regard.

Mexican industry generates 3.8 million metric tons of plastic waste a year (36% of it in Mexico City). The nationwide recycling capacity for plastics (geared towards hard plastic or PET) currently stands at only 646,000 metric tons, so there is plenty of room for more companies and recycling plants.

Garbage-powered street lights

The World Bank is helping finance a new bio-energy project in Monterrery which will reduce emissions by the equivalent of a million tons of CO2. This is about the same quantity as the annual emissions of 90,000 vehicles, or the amount of CO2 that would be absorbed annually by a forest with an area of 970 hectares.

The project, run by Bioenergía de Nuevo León, uses methane gas given off by decomposing garbage in one of the city’s landfills, in Salinas Victoria, which receives 5000 tons of garbage a day. The power plant’s installed generation capacity of 17mW should be sufficient to supply 90% of the nighttime street lighting in the Monterrey metro area. During the day, power from the project is supplied to the city’s metro system. Any surplus is sold to the Federal Electricity Commission and fed into the national grid.

photo of garbage

Recycling has a long way to go...

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Two examples of trans-border air pollution on the Mexico-USA border

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Two examples of trans-border air pollution on the Mexico-USA border
May 262011
 

Poor air quality is known to have significant economic and social impacts, including adverse health risks and a lower quality of life. In this post, we examine two examples of trans-border air pollution. We analyze the causes of poor air quality, and describe the strategies being adopted on either side of the Mexico-USA border to improve air quality.

Does air pollution from maquiladoras in Ciudad Juárez affect people’s health?

The worst air pollution along the USA–Mexico border is in Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua, located across the Río Grande from the city of El Paso in Texas. It is often claimed that this is because of Mexican authorities’ poor enforcement of environmental laws and the high number of maquiladora firms operating in the city.

Mexico-USA border traffic in Ciudad Juárez

Mexico-USA border traffic in Ciudad Juárez

Air pollution does adversely affect the health of Ciudad Juárez’s 1.4 million residents, resulting in a higher incidence of respiratory diseases and premature mortality. However, most of the pollutants related to these health issues do not come from the 300 or so maquiladora factories but from dirt roads, vehicles and family-run brick kilns. Industry, including the brick kilns, accounts for only 17% of total sulfur dioxide emissions, and less than 1% of total particulate emissions. Services account for 44% of the sulfur dioxide emissions, and transport a further 38%. Most particulates came from unpaved roads (65% of the total) and from wind-blown soil erosion (31%). Almost all the carbon monoxide (99%) and nitrogen oxide (92%) added to the air came from transportation. (Blackman, A., Batz, M. and Evans, D. 2004 “Maquiladoras, Air Pollution, and Human Health in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso. April 2003, updated July 2004.”)

Socio-economically poor areas are more affected by bad air quality than richer areas, but this is due to the precise location of the small-scale brick kilns, which have no pollution controls, rather than to the locations of maquiladora plants. Most of the city’s 350 brick kilns are in densely populated low-income residential neighborhoods such as Anapra, Division del Norte, Fronteriza Baja and Waterfill.

When the kilns were first built, these areas were on the perimeter of the city, but they have since been enveloped by urban sprawl. The health damages arising from the brick kilns are estimated at almost $50 million a year in Ciudad Juárez and an additional $13.4 million a year in El Paso.

How are the cross-border twin cities of Nogales (Sonora) and Nogales (Arizona) trying to improve their air quality?

Further west, the border cities of Ambos Nogales (Both Nogales) share many of the same air quality issues as Ciudad Juárez. Nogales in Sonora has a population of about 250,000, more than ten times that of its cross-border twin in Arizona. Inevitably (given the size differential) most of the pollution, including dust and vehicle emissions, comes from south of the border. Air quality is also adversely impacted by natural hazards such as wildfires in the region. The air in Nogales, Arizona, regularly fails to meet the US Environmental Protection Agency’s limits for coarse particulate (PM10) pollution.

However, now, according to a recent news report, steps are being taken to ameliorate the air pollution in Ambos Nogales by authorities either side of the border.

On the Mexican side, reliable air quality monitoring systems are being installed, with the financial help of international agencies. The Sonoran state government has started a priority program to pave dirt roads in the vicinity of Nogales, responsible for an estimated 9,000 metric tons of dust each year. In the next phase, tighter controls are needed on factory emissions and on the burning of waste.

On the US side, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is trying an innovative approach, using federal funds to pay Mexican truck owners to replace their old, leaky mufflers with state-of-the-art catalytic converters. Each conversion costs about $1600. The program should eventually reduce harmful emissions from the particle-spewing diesel-burning trucks by 30%. The next item on the agenda for the US side should be to reduce the waiting times for all trucks crossing the border, so that emissions are further reduced.

We will look at the success (or failure) of these strategies to ameliorate trans-border air pollution in a future post.