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