Northern Mexico has a historic water shortage. These maps explain why. (2022)

As demand for water has grown, researchers say a lack of rain has combined with mismanagement to cause one of the worst droughts in the northern half of the country

By Kasha Patel

and

Lauren Tierney

August 9, 2022 at 11:06 a.m. EDT

Northern Mexico has a historic water shortage. These maps explain why. (1)

Water has become a sacred commodity in northern Mexico.

Reservoirs have been hitting the bottom of their basins. Taps have been running dry for millions of people in the city of Monterrey, where the water shortage was called a matter of national security. Water bills have skyrocketed.

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People have sabotaged pipes that could divert water to other cities. Truck drivers delivering water have been kidnapped.

Ranchers in rural areas have lost livestock or sold their herds prematurely because they can’t feed them.

“People are making lines to obtain a few liters of water. … I wonder how it is possible that they reach this level?” said Víctor Magaña-Rueda, a climatologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “In March, nobody was talking about the socioeconomic drought, and, all of a sudden, we realized that Monterrey was facing one of the worst droughts ever seen in the area.”

For more than a year, northern Mexico has experienced abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions, but water shortages have become increasingly dire in recent months.

As demand has grown, researchers say a lack of rain and, especially, water mismanagement have led to one of the worst droughts in the northern half of the country. As populations continue to increase and temperatures keep rising, speeding up evaporation from the land surface, water problems will worsen without better adaptation.

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“We should really change water management not only in terms of climate change and what may result from it, but also in terms of water demands. Our population has grown. Water demands grow. So things should change,” Magaña-Rueda said.

Drought in Mexico leads to water rationing, theft

Dry conditions are not rare in northern Mexico. Much of the land consists of desert or is semiarid, typically receiving less than 30 inches of rain per year.

Rainfall this year has been lower than normal, however. Northeastern Mexico has been persistently dry since January, receiving no rainfall in some months, which is somewhat unusual even during the dry season.

The North American Drought Monitor shows drought conditions across Mexico, a finding that is primarily based on precipitation amounts; about half of the country is experiencing at least a moderate drought.

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Northern Mexico has a historic water shortage. These maps explain why. (2)

Drought intensity

Data as of June 30

Abnormally

dry

Exceptional

drought

U.S.

Gulf of

Mexico

Mexico

Mexico City

Northern Mexico has a historic water shortage. These maps explain why. (4)

Drought intensity

Data as of June 30

Abnormally dry

Exceptional drought

United States

Sonora

Chihuahua

Coahuila

Gulf of

Mexico

Nuevo

Leon

Mexico

Mexico City

Pacific

Ocean

Belize

Guat.

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Oceanographer Benjamín Martínez López said some of the rainfall deficit results from the temporary presence of La Niña, which is characterized by a cooling of surface waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The lower ocean temperatures are linked to fewer clouds, less rainfall and more evaporation in northeastern Mexico.

Increased temperatures associated with human-caused climate change can also intensify evaporation, dry out soils and worsen drought. Mexico has warmed about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) since preindustrial times. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has documented an increase in drought in the region and expects this condition to worsen in the future as temperatures rise.

Human-induced climate change can also amplify the effects of naturally occurring patterns, such as La Niña.

Researchers say, however, that the low rainfall and rising surface temperatures do not fully explain the water shortages, especially in Monterrey.

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“Monterrey has been increasing their water consumption very, very rapidly,” Magaña-Rueda said.

Water levels in the three dams that supply water to the city are dwindling. In July, level was so low in the Cerro Prieto reservoir that no water could be extracted. The Presa Rodrigo Gómez reservoir, commonly known as La Boca reservoir, is also nearly empty, as shown in satellite imagery at the top of the page and below. The reservoir near El Cuchillo Dam, which lies east of Monterrey, was at less than half-capacity a few weeks ago.

Northern Mexico has a historic water shortage. These maps explain why. (5)

Detail

MEXICO

2021 shoreline

Dam

Santiago

2022

shoreline

1/4 MILE

Note: 2021 shoreline is the median extent between

June 28 and July 12. 2022 shoreline is the median

extent between June 27 and July 11.

Source: Planet Labs PBC

Northern Mexico has a historic water shortage. These maps explain why. (6)

Detail

MEXICO

2021 shoreline

Dam

Santiago

2022

shoreline

1/4 MILE

Note: 2021 shoreline is the median extent between

June 28 and July 12. 2022 shoreline is the median

extent between June 27 and July 11.

Source: Planet Labs PBC

Northern Mexico has a historic water shortage. These maps explain why. (7)

Detail

MEXICO

2021 shoreline

Dam

Santiago

2022

shoreline

1/4 MILE

Note: 2021 shoreline is the median extent between June 28 and July 12. 2022 shoreline is the median

extent between June 27 and July 11.

Source: Planet Labs PBC

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Groundwater is also near record lows. The resource is used to supplement supplies when surface water is unavailable or running low, and it is overexploited during drought. It usually takes months to years to replenish. As of Aug. 1, satellite data showed groundwater across northern Mexico was near record lows, compared with the long-term average.

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“What this shows is that they are pumping a lot of water to face the drought,” said Magaña-Rueda, who also cited illegal pumping from wells. “There is no real control … and it’s more critical in regions where precipitation is, in general, meager, like in northern Mexico.”

Northern Mexico has a historic water shortage. These maps explain why. (8)

Groundwater conditions

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Groundwater wetness percentile as of

Aug. 1, compared with 1948-2012

Drier

Wetter

U.S.

Gulf of

Mexico

Mexico

Mexico City

Northern Mexico has a historic water shortage. These maps explain why. (9)

Groundwater conditions

Groundwater wetness percentile as of

Aug. 1, compared with 1948-2012

Drier

Wetter

U.S.

Gulf of

Mexico

Mexico

Mexico City

Northern Mexico has a historic water shortage. These maps explain why. (10)

Groundwater conditions

Groundwater wetness percentile as of Aug. 1, compared with 1948-2012

Drier

Wetter

United States

Sonora

Chihuahua

Coahuila

Nuevo Laredo

Gulf of

Mexico

Nuevo

Leon

Monterrey

Mexico

Pacific

Ocean

Mexico City

Belize

Guatemala

Northern Mexico has a historic water shortage. These maps explain why. (11)

Groundwater conditions

Groundwater wetness percentile as of Aug. 1, compared with 1948-2012

Drier

Wetter

Tijuana

United States

Sonora

Hermosillo

Coahuila

Chihuahua

Nuevo Laredo

Nuevo

Leon

Gulf of

Mexico

Monterrey

La Paz

Mexico

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Mazatlán

Cancún

Guadalajara

Pacific

Ocean

Mexico City

Veracruz

Belize

Oaxaca

Guatemala

Benjamín Ordoñez-Díaz, an adjunct researcher at the Monterrey Institute of Technology, said water demand has risen in recent decades because of a growing population and an increase in the number of large companies and in agriculture activity. Monterrey’s population has doubled since 1990, with the metropolitan area exceeding 5 million people today.

“The drought in the past only affects cattle and farmers in the beginning, but in this moment affects families, affects farmers, cattle a

nd all the industries who have been developing in this area,” Ordoñez-Díaz said.

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Much of the drought has affected people in poorer neighborhoods. While authorities limited residents’ supply of water, several large Monterrey companies, including breweries and soda factories, continued to receive the supply of water needed to maintain their activities.

These maps illustrate the seriousness of the drought in the western U.S.

“People in Monterrey don’t have access to water, but at the same time, you get pictures from golf fields — green — receiving enough water,” said López, the oceanographer, who also is a lecturer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “The distribution of water is not okay.”

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador acknowledged that growing industrial demand has strained water supplies and called on companies and farmers to give some of their water to the public during the drought. Heineken, the beer producer, offered some of its water allocation and donated a well.

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When the drought will end is uncertain. Many are relying on tropical cyclones to bring water to the desert and replenish reservoirs. Hurricane forecasters have projected an above-average Atlantic hurricane season, another effect of La Niña, but activity has been low so far in the season, which began June 1. Forecasters expect it to pick up soon, but depending on tropical cyclones for rainfall is risky in a constantly changing climate.

“Expecting a tropical cyclone to help water management in the region is not an intelligent activity,” said Magaña-Rueda. “We have been maintaining the same practices as a few decades ago, and so that is unsustainable.”

Magaña-Rueda said the government and locals need to implement more sustainable practices, including less overall water consumption, even outside of drought. People need to diversify water sources, rel

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ying not only on surface and groundwater in a warming world. The government also should create better drought mitigation plans and update water policies, he said.

“The best time to act against drought is when there is no drought,” said Magaña-Rueda. “That is what adaptation is all about.”

About this story

Groundwater conditions data sourced from NASA Grace. Drought monitor data sourced from North American Drought Monitor. Satellite imagery and reservoir shoreline extents for 2021 and 2022 sourced from analysis by Planet Labs PBC.

FAQs

Why is there a water shortage in Mexico? ›

As demand for water has grown, researchers say a lack of rain has combined with mismanagement to cause one of the worst droughts in the northern half of the country. Water has become a sacred commodity in northern Mexico. Reservoirs have been hitting the bottom of their basins.

Why is Mexico City having a hard time with their water supply? ›

Unsustainable water management practices have put Mexico City at risk of running out of water. A large majority of the city's water supply comes from an underground aquifer that is being drained at a rate faster than it can refill.

Does Mexico have a water shortage? ›

Mexico, or large parts of it, is running out of water. An extreme drought has seen taps run dry across the country, with nearly two-thirds of all municipalities facing a water shortage that is forcing people in some places to line up for hours for government water deliveries.

Why is there a shortage of water? ›

Major Causes of Water Scarcity

Natural calamities such as droughts and floods. Increased human consumption. Overuse and wastage of water. A global rise in freshwater demand.

Where does Northern Mexico get its water? ›

A small fraction of the Colorado River manages to reach Northern Mexico to irrigate its fields and provide for the daily needs of millions of residents. That supply is now more at risk than ever.

What are water related issues in Mexico? ›

Mexico's water and sanitation crisis

The challenges include water scarcity in certain parts of the country; inadequate drinking water quality and wastewater treatment, and poor technical and commercial efficiency of most utilities.

Does Mexico City have a water problem? ›

Mexico City is thirsty and running out of water is a possibility. In the fall of 2018, Mexico City spent an entire week without receiving water from its water supply source and consequently had to resort to city wells and reserves left in pipes, water tanks and buckets.

What happened to the water in Mexico City? ›

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, efforts to control flooding by the Spanish led to most of the lake being drained. The entire lake basin is now almost completely occupied by Mexico City, the capital of the present-day nation of Mexico.

Can I drink the water in Mexico? ›

As a rule, you should not drink tap water in Mexico. Generally, the water is purified at the source, but the distribution system may allow the water to be contaminated en route to the tap.

Where does Mexico get water? ›

In 2006, 63% of the Mexican water was extracted from surface water, such as rivers or lakes. The remaining 37% came from aquifers. Due to the strong growth of population and internal migration towards arid and semi-arid regions, many water resources in North and Central Mexico became overexploited.

Where is the drought in Mexico? ›

Extreme drought in northern Mexico has left millions of residents without water : NPR. Extreme drought in northern Mexico has left millions of residents without water Two of the three reservoirs that serve the city are practically empty. In the long term, officials are trying to build more dams and reservoirs.

Can you shower in Mexico water? ›

The water source matters

Water delivered to homes in Mexico is suitable for showering and washing-up the dishes, but most people don't use unfiltered tap water for personal consumption.

Which country has water shortage? ›

These Countries Are the Most at Risk From a Water Crisis
RankCountryRisk Level
1QatarExtremely High
2IsraelExtremely High
3LebanonExtremely High
4IranExtremely High
91 more rows
6 Aug 2019

What are the three main causes of water scarcity? ›

Growing population, over-exploitation and unequal distribution of water among social groups are the main causes of water scarcity.

What is water scarcity and what are its main causes short answer? ›

Water scarcity is a state of insufficient freshwater supply to the population. The primary reason for water scarcity is the over-exploitation of water resources. This excessive use and unequal access to water among different social groups cause a shortage of water to specific regions or populations.

Why does Mexico get water from Lake Mead? ›

Mexico agreed to take a lesser amount of water during times of drought in exchange for establishment of the Intentionally Created Mexican Apportionment. Mexico will be allowed to store water in Lake Mead during times of surplus or when, because of infrastructure problems, it cannot use its entire annual allocation.

What factors are contributing to the lack of water flowing in the Colorado River in Mexico? ›

Dams, irrigation and now climate change have drastically reduced the once-mighty river.

What state ran out of water? ›

The water system in Jackson, Mississippi, the state's capital and largest city, failed earlier this week. On Tuesday, most of the city's 150,000 residents were without running water, prompting the state's Republican governor, Tate Reeves, to declare a state of emergency.

How do you say water in Mexico? ›

How to Say "Water" in Spanish - YouTube

How can we solve the water crisis in Mexico City? ›

In order to satisfy the goals and objectives necessary to alleviate the Mexico City water crisis, a multifaceted solution is essential. Proposed solutions for Mexico City are waste water treatment plants, rainwater collection, encouraging growth in other areas, and improving the current infrastructure.

Why did Mexico drain Lake Texcoco? ›

Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, captured in 1521 by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, stood on islands in old Texcoco, connected to the mainland by causeways. It was hoped that vast areas of rich farmlands would be made available by draining the lake, but the soils proved too saline for cultivation.

Is drinking coffee in Mexico safe? ›

Coffee, hot tea, canned soda and juice, beer, wine and alcohol are all a safe bet.

Can you brush your teeth with the water in Cabo? ›

The resort has a filtration system. The tap water is perfectly fine to use for brushing teeth, coffee, etc.

Can you flush toilet paper down the toilet in Mexico? ›

Doesn't matter where you go in Mexico, their sewage systems cannot accommodate paper. So the answer is..... No, you cannot flush paper down any toilets in Mexico.

Can you boil Mexico water to drink? ›

Yes. As long as you bring the water to a complete boil for at least one minute, it is fine to cook with tap water in Mexico. Boiling the water kills all bacteria and viruses. Food will overpower any poor taste that the tap water leaves.

Are we in a drought 2022? ›

According to the July 19, 2022, U.S. Drought Monitor moderate to exceptional drought covers 44.6% of the United States including Puerto Rico, moderate to exceptional drought covers 44.6% of the United States including Puerto Rico, a decrease from last week's 45.0%.

What language does Mexico speak? ›

The official language of Mexico is Spanish, which is spoken by 90 percent of the people. Indian languages of the Aztecs, Mayans, and other tribes are still spoken throughout the country. Originally there may have been more than 200 roots of native languages.

Is New Mexico in a drought 2022? ›

As of May 4, 2022, 98.9% of the state is under a moderate drought, 95.8% of the state is under a severe drought, 68% is under an extreme drought, and 15.7% of the state is under exceptional drought conditions.

Can you drink ice in Cancun? ›

Yes, the ice in your drink is safe. The ice that is provided to restaurants, bars and convenience stores is produced in ice factories using purified water. Hotels and restaurants that use ice machines also use purified water. Even the local guys downtown selling home-made popsicles use purified water!

Why are there no toilet seats in Mexico? ›

Most of Mexico is warm. Sitting on cold porcelain is in no way comfortable to do your business and a way to avoid even going to the bathroom. However the porcelain is cool in Mexico but never cold. Sanitary factors come into play as well.

What's the drinking age in Mexico? ›

There are several characteristics of the U.S.-Mexico border area that are important to consider when thinking about alcohol use by residents there: poverty, health problems, drug trafficking and its associated violence, and the increased availability of alcohol in Mexico, where the legal drinking age is 18.

What country will run out of water first? ›

According to current projections, Cape Town will run out of water in a matter of months. This coastal paradise of 4 million on the southern tip of South Africa is to become the first modern major city in the world to completely run dry.

How can we solve the problem of water shortage? ›

What is your top solution for the water crisis?
  1. Education/Awareness.
  2. New Conservation Technologies.
  3. Recycle Wastewater.
  4. Improve Irrigation and Agriculture Water Use.
  5. Water Pricing.
  6. Energy Efficient Desal Plants.
  7. Rain Water Harvesting.
  8. Community Governance and Partnerships.

Who is most affected by water scarcity? ›

Women and children are the most affected — children because they're more vulnerable to diseases caused by dirty water and women and girls because they often bear the burden of carrying water for their families for an estimated 200 million hours each day.

How does climate change cause water scarcity? ›

Increasing global temperatures cause water to evaporate in larger amounts, which will lead to higher levels of atmospheric water vapor and more frequent, heavy, and intense rains in the coming years.

How does water shortage affect the environment? ›

Examples of environmental impacts include: Losses or destruction of fish and wildlife habitat. Lack of food and drinking water for wild animals. Increase in disease in wild animals, because of reduced food and water supplies.

How does water scarcity affect the economy? ›

Water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, could cost some regions up to 6% of their GDP, spur migration, and spark conflict. The combined effects of growing populations, rising incomes, and expanding cities will see demand for water rising exponentially, while supply becomes more erratic and uncertain.

Why is it important to conserve and manage our water resources give any three reasons? ›

There is a necessity to conserve water resources on account of the following reasons :i To ensure food securityii For the continuation of our livelihoods and productive activities. iii To safeguard ourselves from health-related hazards. iv To prevent the degradation of our natural ecosystems.

Why is Monterrey running out of water? ›

Drought has drained the three reservoirs that provide about 60% of the water for the region's 5 million residents. Most homes now receive water for only a few hours each morning. And on the city's periphery, many taps have run dry.

What happened to the water in Mexico City? ›

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, efforts to control flooding by the Spanish led to most of the lake being drained. The entire lake basin is now almost completely occupied by Mexico City, the capital of the present-day nation of Mexico.

Can you drink the water in Monterrey Mexico? ›

The Mexico City tap water, like the tap water in the rest of Mexico, isn't considered safe for human consumption. Whether you're in a huge city like Mexico City, big city like Guadalajara or Monterrey, or even a small pueblo magico (magic town) like Valladolid or Valle de Bravo — just don't drink the water in Mexico!.

Does US supply water to Mexico? ›

The Mexican Water Treaty of 1944 committed the U.S. to deliver 1.5 million acre-feet of water to Mexico on an annual basis, plus an additional 200,000 acre-feet under surplus conditions. The treaty is overseen by the International Boundary and Water Commission.

What state ran out of water? ›

The water system in Jackson, Mississippi, the state's capital and largest city, failed earlier this week. On Tuesday, most of the city's 150,000 residents were without running water, prompting the state's Republican governor, Tate Reeves, to declare a state of emergency.

Why did Mexico drain Lake Texcoco? ›

Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, captured in 1521 by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, stood on islands in old Texcoco, connected to the mainland by causeways. It was hoped that vast areas of rich farmlands would be made available by draining the lake, but the soils proved too saline for cultivation.

How can we solve the water crisis in Mexico City? ›

In order to satisfy the goals and objectives necessary to alleviate the Mexico City water crisis, a multifaceted solution is essential. Proposed solutions for Mexico City are waste water treatment plants, rainwater collection, encouraging growth in other areas, and improving the current infrastructure.

Videos

1. UA_Resiliency_EricFuchs_8-19-21
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3. No More Water: What If The American Southwest Runs Dry?
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4. Lands That Could FLOOD in Our Lifetime
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5. Drought Update and Wildfire Outlook Webinar for California and the Southwest
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