Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico
I came home one very hot night in May from soccer practice to find out there was no water in my house. I wanted to take a shower and not a single drop came out. I fell asleep with a feeling of uncertainty. The next day there was water again, but a new reality began for our city: We could no longer count on having running water every day.
I live in Monterrey, Nuevo León, a state located in northern Mexico, neighboring Texas. The city, one of the three largest in the country, is made up of 13 municipalities where 5.3 million people live.
We are in a region that is suffering from droughts. A year ago, local authorities warned that if it did not rain, there would not be enough water to supply the city. It did not rain enough and the three dams that supply water to the city gradually decreased their water capacity until Monterrey reached its current crisis.
We saw how the La Boca dam, which is located in a tourist area, had been drying up to the point of seeing land where there was once only water where people used their boats. Faced with this situation, the government of Nuevo León announced that there would be water restrictions: Once a week we would not have water for a day. However, the cuts began to be more frequent.
Sometimes there is water only in the mornings, other times there is water all day, but sometimes two, three, four days can pass without water. This has been my experience, but there are people who have had to go up to a month without water in their homes. This has caused demonstrations where people have blocked avenues demanding water for their neighborhoods.
Most of the houses were not equipped with water tanks. People have purchased them, but sometimes it is hard to fill the tanks because there is not enough pressure or enough water on the days they have running water. So they have to buy water from water tankers to fill them because the government does not bring water to all the neighborhoods.
On days when there is water at home, we store it in buckets so we are prepared when there isn’t. We also buy bottles of water at the supermarket (in some stores you cannot buy more than a certain number of bottles).
When there is water, we take advantage of it to take a shower, wash dishes and clothes because we don’t know if there will be water in the following hours or days. We have to do everything we need to do with water because there is always the question of whether there will be any tomorrow. It is also important to mention that women are the ones who have carried out the most work during this situation because in most households in Mexico, women are in charge of the majority of the domestic labor and care activities. They have been forced to adjust their schedules and drop everything the minute they notice that water is available in order to perform those activities and collect water to store it for the rest of the day or the week.
One day, I posted on Facebook: “Has anyone around here had to call a water tanker? Do you have any situation in your home, neighborhood, or business that you consider to be more serious than the rest? Send me a message, please.”
I was surprised by the number of friends who answered. That afternoon I spent taking calls and messages. “I’ve been without water for a week”; “I had to move in with my parents who do have water”; “We have to pee in a single toilet, and wait until the end of the day to flush it because we can’t waste the little water we have”; “Everyone in my house had COVID-19, we had no water in the house, it was the worst week of our lives. I was sick, sweating and couldn’t wash my sheets.”
It is difficult to listen to these experiences and know that there are people who are having a worse time. I think of the houses where older adults or sick people live. It is also important to consider that not everybody has the means to buy water bottles, install a water tank system, or buy water from a water tanker.
The girl who has a nail salon near my house told me that she had to close on Thursdays, a day when she had no water. This decreased their weekly sales by 20 percent.
Industry and agriculture are not affected since they take water from wells and rivers that Conagua, an organization that manages water at the national level, gives them in concession. Some companies and agricultural areas have given part of their water to the city. However, this administration does not seem to prioritize the human right to water.
It is the businesses and homes that are impacted by this water shortage. A week ago, my son turned 10 and wanted to eat at his favorite restaurant. We got ready to go out when we saw that on their Instagram, the restaurant posted: “Water hasn’t arrived and we haven’t been able to fill our water tanks, the restaurant will be closed.” They were without water for three days.
In the face of the emergency, the government is bombing clouds with a plane to produce rain and they are also rehabilitating and digging wells to extract water. Just around the corner from my house, they dug a well. However, they have seen that the wells are not giving as much water as they expected. The scenario we are experiencing does not seem as if it will improve for the rest of the year. Mexico’s National Water Commission (Conagua) declared a drought emergency, something that is not temporary and the water infrastructure program would take time to be ready. Rosario Sánchez of Texas Water Resources Institute said recently, the Rio Bravo Basin, to which Nuevo León belongs, is the one with the greatest hydric stress in the world and conditions will no longer be what they were before the current crisis.
The most distressing part is not knowing what will happen in the future since the rain is out of our control and the solutions proposed by the government will take months or even years if they are successful.
For now, all we can do is turn on the tap and hope.
Andrea Menchaca is a reporter who lives in Monterrey, Mexico. Follow her on Twitter @mentxaka.