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Water Trucks in Mexico

Mexico City was founded on a cluster of ancient lakes. The ground beneath the sprawling modern metropolis was once laden with freshwater. But this would change beginning in the 1800s with the discovery of large quantities of groundwater under pressure that produced artesian wells. The first signs of serious groundwater level declines were seen by the 1930s when people started drilling large numbers of deep wells.

Groundwater supplies about 80 percent of Mexico City’s usable water. But demand from the over 18 million residents in the great Mexico City area is sucking the aquifers dry and causing the city to slowly sink into the soft soil of the ancient lakebed. Mexico City has sunk about nine meters over the past century.

As the world’s second-largest city continues to grow, so does water demand. Meanwhile, supplies in this relatively arid region are becoming increasingly tighter. The municipality’s outdated water supply system compounds the shortfall. Rusty, leaky pipes waste more than 25 percent of the city’s precious supply.

Many Mexico City residents live beyond the reach of the piped distribution system. In rapidly-sprouting neighborhoods of unchecked development, piping systems simply aren’t available. In other areas, municipal service is intermittent and sometimes nonexistent. Most of these citizens must quench their thirsts from other sources.

Perhaps one million residents depend entirely on water supply trucks or their smaller derivatives, such as small-tank bicycles. Some of these people live in new, planned neighborhoods. In these sections of the city water trucks are part of the government’s distribution plan and are subsidized by municipal funds.

In unplanned neighborhoods, often slums, the only water supply is by privately operated truck. In these communities the poor who lack access to piped water must rely on private vehicular delivery to neighborhoods without water supply or proper sanitation. Ironically, they pay the highest prices of all. Trapped by dependency on private contractors, some residents spend more than a tenth of their annual income on water in a city where those on the aging piping system pay much less.

Trucked water is often higher in quality than the city’s notorious tap water, but its quality does vary significantly. Many suppliers simply provide filtered tap water in steel trucks—and others may bring water of such poor quality that it is unsafe to drink. Residents use plastic buckets to carry the water back to their homes.

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