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Column 030705 Conroy

March 7, 2005


Baja California Rainfall Reprieve Will Not End Water Shortage


By Nancy Conroy


The recent rainy weather means that the northwestern and most populated portion of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula will not run out of water this year.  That is welcome news indeed as many analysts were predicting that 2005 would be the year the wells ran dry.  Still, in agricultural areas south of Ensenada wells are so saline that they are unusable for the irrigation of produce, and in San Quintin many wells are already dry.  Now that the rains have fallen, wells have refilled, the dams are overflowing, and the pressure is off — at least temporarily.


Nevertheless, most experts estimate that the state of Baja California in its entirety (the northern half of the peninsula of the same name) has no more than three to five more years, even with the recent rains, before the water supply just plain gives out. 


The recent rains have created a short-term reprieve from the crisis, but the long-term problems continue to loom.  The serious downside to the recent rainfall is that since now there is no immediate crisis, the politicians will probably just forget about the problem all over again.  Up until last year, nobody in Mexico was doing anything about the impending water shortage even though there was ample warning.


When it started to look like the water would run out this year, people shifted into crisis mode and actually started thinking about the problem.  Politicians began to talk about possible solutions, something that they should have started thinking about five years ago.  Long-term planning is not exactly Mexico’s strong suit, and there is no strategic water management plan in place.


So, now that the rains came the immediate danger is past, which could mean that the problem will simply be forgotten once again.  


Water in Baja California currently comes via aqueduct from the Colorado River, that is what is left by the time it gets here.  As well, agricultural and municipal water usage in Baja California has already outstripped the supply.


Desalinization plants would be the most effective, yet costly, solution.  As well, the Japanese have proposed an underground dam concept which prevents groundwater runoff.  These dams can rejuvenate a depleted area within a two to five year period by preventing further runoff and regreening the area.  These dams are effective on a small scale, in local areas sharing a common ecosystem.


Water reuse technologies and recycling plants have also been proposed.  One vendor in Rosarito is peddling a technology that he says can convert wastewater into drinking water.  So far however, no one is spending money on any of these technologies.


Who are the possible investors?


Currently, really nobody.  None of the local municipalities, or counties, are spending any money, the state government isn’t funding anything nor is private enterprise.  The governments probably will never spend the money, since their political terms will end before the problem manifests.  Private enterprise, such as hotel owners or developers, wants the government to pay.  Some plans were starting to get talked about this year, but the recent rainfall changed all that.  The new and local crises now are damages caused by the rains, so long-term water management plans have just flown out the window. 


What will happen is that the water crisis will simply be put off for another year or two.  Without planning, in two years Baja California will be right back where they were before the exceptional rains of this year, and the water will simply run out (again).


All concerned should take advantage of this reprieve to take action.  Baja California could seek funds from Mexico’s federal government, the World Bank, American developers or, increasingly, the Japanese.  The biggest source of money lately for infrastructure improvements in Baja California has been Japanese credits, which are currently being used to fund schools, roads, water, and drainage projects.


American developers are also candidates, assuming that they can find a way to profit from their investments.


Water management infrastructure takes time to build and it involves enormous investments. The recent rains have saved Baja California from a serious lack of water crisis that would have hit this year.  The next crisis however, considering that this year’s rainfall is an abnormality, can only be avoided if leaders will make a genuine and serious effort to keep future water needs and management at the top of their agenda.



Nancy Conroy is Publisher of northern Baja California’s biweekly Gringo Gazette North.  She can be reached via e-mail at nancy@gringogazettenorth.com.