Jan 312012

How is Mexico City’s choking sewer system cleaned? Have you ever wondered who is responsible for the gross job of cleaning the city’s sewer system to help ensure it never gets blocked? Well, we did and were surprised at the answer…

In previous posts, we looked at the history of attempts to drain Mexico City:

and at the construction of a massive tunnel to improve the city’s drainage:

At present, both the water supply system and the sewer systems of Mexico City are managed by a single government entity, the Sistema de Aguas de la Ciudad de México (SACM).

In 2008, the system’s main existing tunnel was shut down for its first maintenance in 35 years. To maintain the drains and sewers, Mexico City relies heavily on its experienced team of divers, all two of them! They are thought to be the only sewage divers in the world. This 2010 interview from the always interesting blog ediblegeography.com with diver Julio Cou Cámara is a mind-opening read.

In his own words, “What we mostly do is maintenance. We repair pumps, we take out debris—we take out bodies of animals, bodies of people, and all the rubbish. There’s so much rubbish in the drainage system, it’s very harmful to us and to the city. People are always wondering why there’s so much flooding in the city. I can tell you that the city floods because of all the rubbish that creates blockages in our drainage system. If we were maybe a bit more conscious about rubbish and we didn’t throw it on the street, we wouldn’t have this many flooding problems in the city.”

Frankly, this challenging job does not sound like much fun: “We work blindly in the black water. It contains animal poo, human poo, hospital waste… any kind of pollution you can think of. All of that is in the sewage water. That’s where we work.”

So, now you know! The sewers of Mexico City would function far worse if it wasn’t for the unsung heroism of workers like Carlos Barrios and Julio Cou Cámara.

(But if a vacancy comes up, please don’t call)

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