Memory conspires against nature. We adapt to new conditions so quickly that we no longer remember how things used to be and, because of this general amnesia, we no longer care.
The sociologist, Stanley Cohen, wrote in his book States of Denial, “the ability to deny is an amazing human phenomenon, yet we find denial useful. It fulfills our need to be innocent of troubling recognition.” What, if anything, are the citizens and politicians in Puerto Vallarta failing to recognize when it comes to our water? What are we denying?
Last year Puerto Vallarta celebrated its fiftieth anniversary as a city. How have things changed here in the previous fifty years? The population in 1968 was about 25,000 and fifty years later is 319,000 and growing fast. Then, the new city welcomed a few thousand tourists and in 2018 over 4,700,000 came into town. Now the city covers 1300 square kilometers (500 sq. miles) of land that fifty years ago was, pretty much, virgin forests covering a narrow coastal plain at the foot of the mountains with a small town beside the sea. We still have the same four major rivers flowing into the Bay of Banderas; the Ameca, the Pitillal, the Cuale and, south of town, El Río Los Horcones. How has this extraordinarily rapid growth affected the environment? The answer is: massively. Do we care? Should we?
Let’s ignore, or deny, the amount of concrete and asphalt we have laid, the sewers and water pipes we have installed, the runaway building construction, the ever-expanding airport, the cruise ship terminal and the air pollution from our cars and buses. Let’s just look at the water supply in Puerto Vallarta. Let’s not deny, but acknowledge, that without water we cannot live.
On June 28, the Coapinole Lagoon, a small body of water in the aforementioned colonia, or neighborhood, ran dry for the first time in history. Seapal, the city’s water and sewer service utility, announced that, because of planned maintenance, water services would be suspended in thirty-five colonias, including much of Coapinole. The same day, during a forum at Puerto Vallarta’s city hall, hydrology expert Jose Antonio Gomez Reyna explained how aquifers need to be properly monitored and allowed to recharge. He expressed concern about the lack of proper management of Puerto Vallarta’s aquifer and the forecasts of severe water shortages within the next two years. What should and can be done in the next twenty-four months to avert a water crisis in Puerto Vallarta? Does anyone know? Is information available to calm our fears? If not, why not?
There is also cause for concern if we look further into the future than just two years. The rainy season, which is usually well underway by mid-June, hasn’t happened yet. The few rainstorms we have had have not come close to providing the water we need to replenish what we used last winter. In the previous twenty years, the average annual rainfall has been dropping, and the demand from the increased population and tourism has been growing. Added to this is the concern resulting from the climate change prediction models for the central west coast region of Mexico. They point to hotter and drier conditions in the future. Will the aquifers still give us what we need? Do we know for sure?
Very few people living in Puerto Vallarta today remember how the area was fifty years ago and, besides, what is done is done. We cannot change the past. However, I wonder if, fifty years from now, Vallartenses will acknowledge what an excellent job the leaders of the city in 2019 did in planning the next fifty years of expansion and growth. What do you think? Share your thoughts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org