Northern Mexico is experiencing a historic water shortage. These cards explain why.

As demand for water has increased, researchers say the lack of rain has combined with poor management to cause one of the worst droughts in the northern half of the country.

Satellite imagery from Planet Labs PBC shows Presa Rodrigo Gómez, commonly known as


Water has become a sacred commodity in northern Mexico.

The tanks touched the bottom of their basins. Faucets have been dry for millions of people in the city of Monterrey, where water shortages were seen as a matter of national security. Water bills skyrocketed.

People sabotaged pipes that could divert water to other towns. Truckers delivering water have been kidnapped.

Pastoralists in rural areas have lost livestock or sold their herds prematurely because they cannot feed them.

“People make lines to get 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 socio-economic drought and all of a sudden we realized that Monterrey was facing one of the worst droughts the region has ever seen.”

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

As demand increased, researchers say a lack of rain and, above all, poor water management led to one of the worst droughts in the northern half of the country. As populations continue to grow and temperatures continue to rise, accelerating evaporation from the earth’s surface, water problems will worsen without better adaptation.

“We really need to change water management not only in terms of climate change and what can result from it, but also in terms of water demand. Our population has increased. Water demands are increasing. So things should change,” Magaña-Rueda said.

Drought in Mexico leads to water rationing and theft

Dry conditions are not uncommon in northern Mexico. Much of the land is desert or semi-arid, typically receiving less than 30 inches of rain per year.

However, rainfall this year has been below normal. Northeastern Mexico has been consistently dry since January, receiving no rain in some months, which is somewhat unusual even in the dry season.

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

Oceanographer Benjamín Martínez López said part 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. Lower ocean temperatures are linked to less cloud, less precipitation, and more evaporation in northeastern Mexico.

Rising temperatures associated with human-induced 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 pre-industrial times. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has documented an increase in drought in the region and expects this to worsen in the future as temperatures rise.

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

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

“Monterrey has increased its water consumption very, very quickly,” Magaña-Rueda said.

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

Note: 2021 coastline is the median extent between

June 28 and July 12. The 2022 shoreline is the median

extended between June 27 and July 11.

Note: 2021 coastline is the median extent between

June 28 and July 12. The 2022 shoreline is the median

extended between June 27 and July 11.

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

extended between June 27 and July 11.

Groundwater is also near record highs. The resource is used to supplement supplies when surface water is unavailable or depleted, and it is overexploited in times of drought. It usually takes months to years to replenish. As of August 1, satellite data showed groundwater in northern Mexico near record highs, compared to the long-term average.

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

Groundwater moisture percentile at

August 1, relative to 1948-2012

Groundwater moisture percentile at

August 1, relative to 1948-2012

Groundwater moisture percentile as of August 1, relative to 1948-2012

Groundwater moisture percentile as of August 1, relative to 1948-2012

Benjamín Ordoñez-Díaz, assistant researcher at the Monterrey Institute of Technology, said the demand for water has increased in recent decades due to population growth and the increase in the number of large companies and the agricultural activity. Monterrey’s population has doubled since 1990, with the metropolitan area now exceeding 5 million.

“Drought in the past only affects livestock and farmers at first, but right now is affecting families, affecting farmers, livestock and all the industries that have developed in this area,” Ordoñez-Díaz said. .

Much of the drought affected residents of poorer neighborhoods. While authorities have restricted residents’ water supplies, several large businesses in Monterrey, including breweries and soda factories, have continued to receive the water supply needed to maintain operations.

These maps illustrate the severity of the drought in the western United States

“The people of Monterrey don’t have access to water, but at the same time you get images of golf courses – greens – getting enough water,” said López, the oceanographer, who is also in charge courses at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. . “The water distribution is not correct.”

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

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

“Expecting a tropical cyclone to help with water management in the region is not smart business,” Magaña-Rueda said. “We have maintained the same practices as a few decades ago, so it’s not sustainable.”

Magaña-Rueda said the government and residents need to implement more sustainable practices, including less water use, even outside of drought. People need to diversify water sources, not relying solely on surface and groundwater in a warming world. The government should also create better drought mitigation plans and update water policies, he said.

“The best time to act on drought is when there is no drought,” Magaña-Rueda said. “That’s adaptation.”

Groundwater condition data from NASA Grace. Drought monitor data from North American Drought Monitor. Satellite imagery and reservoir shoreline extent for 2021 and 2022 from Planet Labs PBC analysis.

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