The trouble with water is that it needs to be in the Goldilocks zone of not too much and not too little. In Puerto Vallarta, we are in that perfect zone with no droughts and no floods. But things can change, and we don’t know what the future holds. But there are some things we do know.
We know that 97.5% of the Earth’s water is salt and 2.5% is fresh. According to the U.S. Geologic Survey, glaciers and ice caps contain 69% of the fresh water, surface water (lakes and rivers) contain just 1%, and the other 30% is in groundwater.
We know that the water that comes out of our taps, like much of the drinking water around the world, is groundwater. Any precipitation, whether it’s rain or melted snow, that is not absorbed by plants, may percolate down into the subsoil and bedrock and then it is known as “groundwater.” This water is found in the pores between particles in sand and gravel or in the cracks in rocks, and forms reservoirs of freshwater, which are known as “aquifers.” Punch a well into an aquifer and water flows to the surface.
Some aquifers stretch over areas of thousands of square miles, and, in some, their water was deposited thousands of years ago. This water is usually replenished very slowly, and we know that in many places aquifers are being used up faster than they’re renewed. This is happening in Mexico City.
According to a report in May 2018 titled “How a city that floods is running out of water,” Mexico City has a severe problem. With a population of 20 million, the city’s demands for water are staggering. But the amount of rain coming down is not keeping up with the groundwater being pumped up. If trends continue, the city’s aquifers are expected to dry out within the next thirty years. Let’s read that again… Mexico City’s natural water reserves could be gone by 2049. Then what? How old, dear reader, will you be then?
According to Arnoldo Matus Kramer, the city’s Chief Resilience Officer, “We are exploiting our local aquifers at a very high rate. At the same time, we haven’t invested enough resources to have a robust monitoring system. So there’s a lot of uncertainty as to how the local aquifers work.”
The over-exploitation of its water reserve also risks increasing seismic activity and is causing subsidence within the city. Parts of the city are sinking by 30cms. (12”) a year; the result of the aquifer not being ‘pumped up’ by water enough to support the ground above. This type of sinking has been linked to the earthquake of 2017. The subsidence also affects infrastructure above and below ground—damaging the very pipes that bring water to people, as well as removing their waste.
If the remaining water in the lake basin is lost, it will have a ripple effect. It will reduce humidity in the city and higher temperatures will cause more water to disappear—while, at the same time, making the parched city ever thirstier. It’s a vicious cycle with no easy solution in sight. As a first step, Kramer says that the city is developing a “robust monitoring system” and identifying the key problems that must be overcome in order to save itself.
We know that the depletion of aquifers is happening worldwide. Here’s another example: the US Geological Survey issued a report, on June 20, 2019, on the state of the Mississippi River Valley aquifer. The report included this statement: “The Mississippi River Valley aquifer caps a shallow system of aquifers in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain that extends across 45,000 square miles of the midwestern and southern United States from Illinois to Louisiana… Increased groundwater withdrawal is expected to continue and threatens complete and irreversible aquifer depletion.”
What? Mexico City! The Mississippi River Valley! Depletion of aquifers are happening and they are happening more frequently as populations increase, demand for water by the agricultural industry and cities sky-rockets and the wells run dry.
We know that Seapal provides the water services to Puerto Vallarta and they pump that water from aquifers. In a meeting held a couple of months ago, professional hydrologist, Jose Antonio Gomez Reyna, 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. Will Puerto Vallarta soon be added to that list of cities running out of water? That is what we don’t know.
Editor’s Note: We received may letters to the editor regarding the recent issues with the Rio Horcones hydro-dam project which you can read about here: https://www.vallartatribune.com/letters-to-the-editor-rio-horcones-and-water-issues-in-banderas-bay/