Apr 262013
 

An amendment to Mexico’s constitution in 2011 made access to potable water a basic human right, but Mexico’s major cities face unprecedented challenges in meeting future demands for drinking water. In this post we look at some of the water supply issues relating to Mexico City and Guadalajara.

In 2009, the National Water Commission (Conagua) estimated that a staggering 40% of potable water nationwide was being lost through leaks in city and municipal systems, with a further 20% not properly accounted for due to billing errors and clandestine connections. Conagua recently announced a new plan for Mexico City, that it hopes will safeguard that city’s water supply for the next 25 years. (OOSKAnews 18 April 2013)

The plan creates a new metropolitan decision-making body, which will be empowered to choose which sources of water will be used, set timelines and commitments, and monitor all activities carried out under the plan. Conagua head David Korenfeld said that establishing a single water management body for the entire metropolitan zone in the Valley of Mexico means that, “there exists no possibility of misinterpretation in collaboration”. At present, several different water management bodies have responsibility for different parts of the Metropolitan Area, which extends well beyond the boundaries of the Federal District (México D.F.) into the neighboring State of México (Estado de México).

Korenfeld argues that potable water prices must be related to the real costs of water production, system maintenance and service delivery, and that subsidies must be cut in order to achieve efficient, sustainable and equitable water management. According to Conagua data, water tariffs in the Valley of Mexico cover only  51% of the true costs of service provision.The new plan calls for the existing Cutzamala water system to be completely restructured, with an alternative channel created to bring water to the city.

sacm officeRamón Aguirre Díaz, the director of the Mexico City Water System (SACM) which would come under the new decision-making body, says that one of the main challenges is to ensure adequate water supply to the municipality of Iztapalapa. Iztapalapa is the most populous and fastest growing of the city districts, with over 90% of its territory urbanized. The SACM is suggesting a six-year, 150-million-dollar plan to resolve the situation, which would include waiving water charges for some areas where service has been poor and sporadic. Aguirre stressed the need for the government and society “to succeed in reducing water consumption and improve their habits”, saying that consumption needs to be cut by at least 30%.

Coincidentally, it is in Iztapalapa where the findings from several deep wells allowed Mexico City engineers and geologists to announce earlier this year that a 40-million-dollar study conducted over 18 months had identified a major new aquifer under Mexico City. The city has an average elevation of 2240 meters above sea level; the new aquifer, which could become a major new source of potable water, is located 2000 meters beneath the surface. The initial announcement claimed that the aquifer could supply as much as 80,000 liters of water a second.

Conagua officials cautioned that the potential usable flow of this aquifer still has to be confirmed and that it may take a further three years of research to establish the maximum sustainable yield.  The aquifer might indeed relieve Mexico City’s physical water scarcity (volumes of supply) at some point in the future, but it would not necessarily overcome the economic water scarcity (cost of supply) faced by many of its residents. (For more about economic water scarcity, see How fast is the ground sinking in Mexico City and what can be done about it?).

Frederick Mooser, arguably Mexico’s most distinguished geologist, was quoted in the press as saying that the indication of very large reserves of water below a depth of 1500 meters might well alleviate the continued need to extract water from aquifers closer to the surface, extraction that has caused so many problems for the city’s infrastructure. The major aquifer used currently lies at a depth of between 60 and 400 meters. There are about 630 wells in the Federal District alone; all are overexploited and have an average life expectancy of 30 years.

Mooser also pointed out that the results from the wells used to locate the new aquifer show that the area has considerable potential for geothermal power generation in the future.

Mexico’s second city, Guadalajara, also faces sever water management issues. According to a recent press report (OOSKAnews, 11 April 2013), Metropolitan Guadalajara loses 18% of its water through leaks in the supply system (a loss of around 41 million dollars in economic terms)

siapaAccording to an official from the city’s water utility, SIAPA, repairing ailing parts of the network (154 locations have been identified as “vulnerable”) could save most of the 4 million dollars a year currently being spent dealing with emergency repairs. However, the precise location of leaks is difficult to pinpoint because of a lack of metering equipment. In addition to the 18% lost through leaks, SIAPA believes another 12% goes unaccounted for as a result of clandestine connections and incorrect billing.

The biggest reason for leaks is the age of the system. Parts of the water supply networks in Mexico’s major cities are now over 70 years old. For example, in Guadalajara, more than 70% of the city’s 3458 km of main water supply lines is over 70 years old. Replacing the 2544 km of pipes older than 70 years would require investing around 300 million dollars, with a further 500 million dollars needed to upgrade the drainage system. SIAPA’s total investment in renewing and expanding systems is currently about 45 million dollars a year. The water firm is already said to be the most indebted decentralized public agency in the country, with debts of 240 million dollars.

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Cyclists retaking the streets of Guadalajara

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Feb 022013
 

The popularity of cycling is growing rapidly in several Mexico cities. Mexico City has created bike lanes, an Ecobici system for short-distance hires, and holds numerous cycling events and rallies, designed to appeal to the whole family, not just to commuters.

Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, now has a higher density of car use than Mexico City, according to “Over the Wheel—Mexico“, a documentary made recently for Aljazeera TV by Juan Pablo Rojas. Rojas, a native of the city, is a long-time film maker. He focuses his documentaries “on those sectors of society that are promoting new paradigms of life based on social equality, awareness, development, conservation and sustainability.”

Via RecreActiva in Guadalajara. Photo by supernova.gdl.mx

Via RecreActiva in Guadalajara. Photo by supernova.gdl.mx

Over the Wheel—Mexico” takes a look at the growing cycling culture in Guadalajara, a city of some four million people and almost two million motor vehicles. It looks at the dedicated work of several committed groups of activists, such as GDL en bici [Guadalajara by bike],  who are striving to persuade car owners to change their habits and make the streets safer for alternative, cleaner corms of transport such as bicycles. Among other things, the activists have begun a “bicicleta blanca” movement in which white-painted bicycles are mounted as a memorial wherever a cyclist is killed in a traffic accident.

Can cyclists reclaim the streets of Guadalajara from cars? This 25-minute documentary, which has Spanish language commentary and English subtitles, looks at how a quiet revolution in sustainable urban transport is slowly unfolding in Guadalajara.

Further evidence of the growing popularity of cycling in Guadalajara is provided by the success of the weekly “Via RecreActiva” (see image). Every Sunday, city officials close over 65 km (40 mi) of city streets to motorized vehicles for six hours from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Up to 200,000 people take over the streets. Most are on bicycles, but others are walking, jogging, rollerblading or skateboarding.

Want to read more?

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The geography of the 2011 Pan American Games (Juegos Panamericanos)

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Jan 022012
 

The XVI Pan American Games were held from October 14–30, 2011 in Guadalajara (Jalisco) with some events held in outlying locations such as Ciudad Guzmán, Puerto Vallarta, Lagos de Moreno and Tapalpa. They were the largest multi-sport event of 2011. Some 6,000 athletes from 42 nations participated in 36 sports. The largest contingents of athletes (more than 500 in each case) came from host nation Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, the USA, Cuba and Canada.

Guadalajara is Mexico’s second city, a metropolitan area of almost five million people, the industrial and commercial hub of a region that is considered quintessentially Mexican, home to charrería (Mexican horsemanship), jarabe tapatío (Mexican hat dance), mariachi music, and tequila, the national drink.

This post looks at the impacts of the Pan American Games on the local economy.

How much investment was required to host the games?

The original budget for the Games was $250 million (dollars), but this ballooned to about one billion by the time of the Opening Ceremony. The security budget was $10 million, to pay 10,000 municipal, state and federal police, as well as elements from the Mexican army and navy, to patrol the streets surrounding the venues during the games.

How many visitors attended the Games?

The State Tourism Secretariat expected 800,000 visitors and spending of $75 million (dollars). Some government spokespersons claimed that between 1 and 1.5 million attended the games. However, a study released by the Guadalajara Chamber of Commerce found that 454,148 visitors came to Guadalajara during the games (305,177 from the state of Jalisco, and 148,971 from elsewhere). 83% (424,354) of visitors came “specifically for the Games”.

How many jobs were created?

The build-up to the games created some 50,000 new jobs. In addition, more than 6,000 volunteers, mainly students, were employed during the games.

How much were the media and TV rights worth?

1,300 media representatives attended the games. More than 750 television hours of sports were broadcast, with global digital media company Terra broadcasting the games live in 13 simultaneous high-definition online channels. The TV rights were worth $50 million.

How many sports venues were used?

There were 32 different venues used during the games. Billions of pesos were spent building 19 impressive new sports stadiums and complexes. Thirteen existing sports arenas in the Guadalajara metro area were rebuilt or extensively refurbished. The opening and closing ceremonies for the Pan American Games were held in a 48,000-seat local soccer stadium, the Omnilife Stadium (Estadio Omnilife), built in 2010 for the Guadalajara “Chivas” soccer team.

Facilities built specifically for the games included an iconic Aquatics Center (Centro Acuático), sponsored by Scotiabank, with two Olympic-size pools and seating up to 3,500 spectators, and a state-of-the-art gymnastics venue, sponsored by Nissan.

2011 Pan American games venues in Jalisco, Mexico

2011 Pan American games venues in Jalisco, Mexico

How did the games help regional development?

Several sports events were held at sites well away from the Guadalajara metro area. This helped promote a regional profile for the games. The five locations involved (see map) were:

  • Puerto Vallarta (beach volleyball, open water swimming, triathlon, sailing)
  • Lagos de Moreno (baseball)
  • Ciudad Guzmán (rowing, canoeing)
  • Chapala (water skiing)
  • Tapalpa (mountain biking)

How much did visitors to the games spend?

Local businesses reported sales up 7% during the period of the Games. The total games-related spending by visitors was estimated at $210 million (dollars). Hotel occupancy rates for the period of the games rose from 58.3% in 2010 to 76.4% during the games. The rate was 97% for the 5-star hotels in Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta.

Even so, according to a local newspaper (The Guadalajara Reporter), local business owners were “underwhelmed” by the Pan American Games’ impact. Restaurants, bars, clubs, taxis and travel agencies all received fewer customers than anticipated. Local business owners said that “very few foreign tourists came for the games, while most spectators at the events were local citizens, athletes and their families, journalists and other games-affiliated personnel.” Business owners in Puerto Vallarta were reported to be “angry at the lack of publicity for the destination”.

Problems with the Athletes Village

The Pan American Athletes Village (Villa Panamericana) was built one kilometer outside Guadalajara’s western ring-road (Periférico) to house all 6,000 participants. The location is conveniently close to the Omnilife Stadium, site of the opening and closing ceremonies.

The Athletes Village has three-bedroom apartments, a central plaza, restaurant, gym, discotheque, chapel, swimming pool, theater and health clinic. The original plan was for the Village apartments to be sold after the Games for between $90,000 and $250,000 (dollars) each. However, the fate of the Athletes Village is still uncertain, because residents of the nearby (and long-established) Rancho Contento subdivision have taken the owners to court,  demanding that the Athletes Village be demolished since it has already caused irreparable damage to the local ecosystem.

Apart from some issues of housing density in this area, the main concern is that the village has inadequate provision for sewage. After the Games ended, local newspapers reported that faulty treatment plants had resulted in sewage being pumped out of the village on to land inside the nearby Primavera Forest biosphere reserve. Apparently, two of the Village’s treatment plants “collapsed” under the volume of wastewater generated, and partially-treated sewage had collected as open ponds. It is unclear if the sewage contaminated local subsoil and streams. After the Games, city officials closed the plants and fined the Athletes Village administrators. The administrators claim that the plants and Village had been designed to accommodate only 2500 to 3000 athletes, not the 6000 participants that were later housed there.

Conclusion

The lasting legacy of the games is a number of new hotels in Guadalajara, including hotels in the Westin and Riu chains, and a number of new or upgraded sports venues. In addition, many roads were repaved and numerous other beautification projects have helped improve Guadalajara’s urban fabric and infrastructure. The city’s main exhibition space (Expo Guadalajara) and the international airport have both been expanded.

The first obvious benefit of these improvements has been that the city (and its new Aquatics Center) have been chosen to host the 2017 World Swimming Championships.

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Mexico, Manchester United, and a new soccer stadium in Guadalajara

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Mexico, Manchester United, and a new soccer stadium in Guadalajara
Apr 082010
 

The British soccer (fútbol) giants Manchester United have signed their first ever player from Mexico. Javier Hernández—”El Chicharito” (the Little Pea)—is a 21-year-old striker who has already scored four goals for Mexico in just four games, and is expected to play an important part in Mexico’s World Cup bid in South Africa in the summer. So far this season playing for Guadalajara-based Club Deportivo Guadalajara (better known as Chivas) in Mexico’s Primera División, Hernández has scored 10 goals in 11 matches, an outstanding strike rate, making him joint third in the goal-scoring charts.

And the origin of his nickname “El Chicharito”? Apparently, it comes from his father who was also a Chivas and Mexico soccer player, and whose nickname was “El Chicharo” (‘The Pea). Hernández’s grandfather also played for Chivas.

The deal between Manchester United and Chivas is worth about 9 million dollars. It includes an agreement for Manchester United to play Chivas in Guadalajara in July this year in a friendly game to mark the official opening of Chivas’ new 45,000-seat stadium prior to the start of the 2010/11 season. The new stadium is on the western edge of Mexico’s second city, and was designed by French firm Studio Massaud Pouzet and built by HOK (Mexico-USA).

The geography of soccer is increasingly tied to the forces of globalization. We’ll take a more in-depth look at the geography of soccer in Mexico in future posts.

Mar 252010
 

The “Niagara of Mexico” is a natural waterfall on the River Santiago as it winds its way from Lake Chapala to the Oblatos Canyon, the deep ravine which prevents the city of Guadalajara from expanding further northwards.

Juanacatlán Falls, 1909

Between the small villages of El Salto (The Waterfall) and Juanacatlan, 17 kilometers east of the Guadalajara-Chapala highway, is the second biggest waterfall in North America, the biggest being Niagara. A bridge with 24 arches spans the falls and links the two villages. The falls became part of Mexican postal history in 1899.

The Juanacatlan falls are shown as a waterfall of immense beauty, a conclusion echoed by tourist guides of the time which speak of a “magnificent spectacle” and the “majestic falls”.

Despite their former fame, the 35-meter-high falls were reduced in the 1980s to a trickle of dirty, evil-smelling effluent from local factories.

Juanacatlán Falls in 1989. Photo: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Next to the falls, which at the turn of the 20th century provided hydro-electric power for Guadalajara, now stands the empty shell of a cotton and woolen mill whose wheels were once turned by the falls. Hopefully one day these historic falls will be restored to their rightful place as one of Mexico’s greatest tourist attractions.

Updates:

The text of this post is an edited excerpt from Tony Burton’s Western Mexico, A Traveller’s Treasury (4th edition). All rights reserved.

The geography of cholera in Mexico

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Feb 282010
 

When Mexico braced herself for the imminent arrival of cholera from South America in 1991, many people believed that the disease had never previously been known here. However, during the 19th century, there were several outbreaks, including the epidemic of 1833 in which more than 3,000 people died in the city of Guadalajara alone.

A meeting of public health officials in January 1833 stressed the need for public areas to be regularly cleaned. This meeting called for the construction of six carts, to be used each night for removing the excrement left on street corners, since not all the houses had “accesorios” (toilets). This proposal reveals the unsanitary conditions which prevailed in Guadalajara at that time.

The epidemic struck in July, and peaked in August, when more than 200 people died of the disease each day. Sporadic cases dragged on into early 1834.

The shout of “Aguas!” (“Waters!”) as a warning of imminent danger, still used in many contexts today, actually dates back to when there was no sewage collection or provision. It was used to warn passers-by in the street below that the contents of “night buckets” were about to be emptied onto their heads…

In 1849 the city of Guadalajara feared a second epidemic. The authorities published a list of precautions that they considered essential, and a list of the “curative methods for Asiatic cholera.” At that time, the only major hospital in the city was the Hospital Belén. Its rival, the San Juan de Díos hospital, was “small and poorly constructed, insufficiently clean, and careless in waste disposal.”

The situation was made worse because  the  San Juan De Díos River was little more than an open sewer running through the center of the city. This river is now entirely enclosed and runs directly beneath the major avenue of “Calzada Independencia.”

Only two methods of sewage disposal were in use in 1850. Some houses took their sewage to the nearest street corner, where it was collected by the nightly cart for subsequent removal from the city. Other (higher class) houses deposited their sewage in open holes in the ground which allowed the wastes to separate, with the liquids permeating into the subsoil and the solids accumulating. Not exactly ideal in terms of public health!

The town council called for the construction of more of these latrines and for the activities of the night carts to be reduced.

The council also advocated increasing the air circulation in the city and simultaneously fumigating it. Authorities in Cuba had tried something similar in 1840, when they had spread resin, and fired batteries of cannons simultaneously, all over Havana! It was believed that the air housed cholera and other diseases and that it could directly affect the organism, through its “miasmas.”

The “Cuban solution” is tried in Guadalajara

In 1850, the epidemic began and the Guadalajara council voted to try the Cuban solution. On August 7th , at the height of the epidemic, fireworks, artillery and everything else were ignited – even the church bells were rung – in order to stimulate air movement and purification , “to increase the electricity in the air and reduce the epidemic.”

During the 1833 epidemic, various industrial plants, including ones making soap, starch and leather, had been closed, though no regulations were ever passed for their subsequent improvement. This time, in 1850, more drastic measures were taken. Tanneries had to construct their own watercourses, and their water was not allowed to collect and stagnate by bridges. Soap works were transferred out of the city completely. Despite these efforts, many stagnant pools of water would have lain on the city’s poorly constructed cobblestone streets: pools of water just waiting for an outbreak of cholera.

The police force was given the power to supervise everyone’s adherence to the regulations. Inspectors were appointed for each district or barrio to see that all “night activities” (carts included) terminated before 8:00 a.m., that sewage water was not used for the irrigation of plants, that gatherings were not too large, and that billiard, lottery and society halls all closed at the start of evening prayers.

A group of doctors was obliged to give its services free to anyone who needed medical help. The doctors apportioned the city among themselves and were told by the town council that they would be paid for their services as soon as council funds permitted. The main idea, of course, was to help the poor, perhaps not so much from any altruistic motives but to avoid any inconvenience to the rich!

Fortunately, any new outbreak of the disease in modern Guadalajara will be handled very differently to these 19th century epidemics. The excellent modern medical facilities in the city, and the large number of qualified doctors, mean that anyone unlucky enough to contract the disease should be able to get adequate treatment ensuring a full and speedy recovery.

This is an edited version of an article originally published on MexConnect

Click here for the complete article

Note: The diffusion of cholera in Mexico during the 1991-1996 epidemic is discussed, alongside a map showing the incidence of the disease, in chapter18 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.

Geo-Mexico also includes an analysis of the pattern of HIV-AIDS in Mexico, and of the significance of diabetes in Mexico.