Action Memorandum: Recommended Water Management Strategy

The purpose of this memo is twofold. First, it aims to demonstrate that decentralization of Mexico City’s water distribution and treatment facilities are the appropriate strategic initiative to pursue resolving social, environmental, and economic problems associated with supplying potable water to Mexico City. Second, it seeks to obtain authorization to undertake actions intended to facilitate decentralization of water resource management and implement shared management.

Recommended Actions

A workgroup recommends developing and implementing a plan of decentralization of management of Mexico City’s water distribution and treatment facilities to achieve effective sustainable and shared water resources management, resolve existing environmental concerns, and decrease social tensions associated with water supply and wastewater utilization.

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The main reason for recommending decentralization is the fact that centralized management of water supply and wastewater disposal proved to be ineffective and led to nearly catastrophic social and environmental consequences. Since 1989, when the Federal Water Commission, the sole federal agency authorized to manage water, was created, problems of water supply and distribution exacerbated significantly. For example, centralized management relied on costly projects aimed to increase volumes of water flowing to the Mexico City Metropolitan Zone (MCMZ). However, vital issues that resulted into shortages of potable water such as exploitation of old pipelines that lost up to 40 percent of water, unequal distribution of water within MCMZ, erratic billing for water usage, and wasteful attitudes towards water resources remained unresolved for decades. In other words, centralized approach to confronting problems was headed in the wrong direction since it pursued unsustainable solutions in the form of increasing volumes of supplied water without reducing its losses and improving efficiency of water systems. Consequently, MCMZ that wielded significant administrative power and influence on the government attempted to solve its water shortages at the cost of other regions, depriving them of water resources, polluting their ecosystems, and causing social tensions.

A centralized approach will lead to further failures to implement environmental projects, contributing to an even more considerable pollution, promoting unsustainable solutions to problems of water shortages and wastewater treatment, and resulting eventually in the environmental and social collapse of MCMZ. Therefore, centralized management, being responsible for extreme and prolonged mismanagement of water resources and high water and soil pollution, offers no solutions to solving problems of water supply and a low quality of potable water. A decentralization strategy suggests a promise of finding sustainable settling to existing environmental and social complications. Probable effects, advantages, and accomplishments of decentralization include more extended involvement of communities in approaching the problem of water supply, more participatory decision-making, equality of distribution of water resources, and the development and implementation of sustainable environmental solutions. The disadvantage of decentralization and implementing the system of River Basin Councils is that it is a new experimental framework for resolving the difficulties with water supply and wastewater treatment. Another problem is that some River Basin Councils have neither sufficient expertise nor adequate human resources and capital to undertake environmental projects. Additionally, a transfer of responsibility and authority from the federal government to municipal authorities revealed that the latter often do not possess financial capabilities and planning and management capacity to implement water resources management projects. However, considering that MCMZ exploited water resources of river basin communities for decades without paying for water, it is justified to recommend to city authorities to direct a part of the city reserve towards environmental projects of River Basin Councils. Since MCMZ accounts for 38 percent of gross national product (GNP) and 45 percent of the country’s industrial activity, it can afford supporting local environmental projects that stimulate solving the city’s catastrophic environmental problem.

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Alternative water management strategies that may be applied for confronting the problem of water supply and wastewater treatment include (a) creating an Independent National Water Management Agency with representatives from affected River Basin municipal communities and MCMZ (two representatives from each effected municipal community and two from MCMZ to maintain equality) or (b) letting an outside contractor (international organization) to handle the aspect and settle problems. The first option of creating an Independent National Water Management Agency implies that this Agency will act as the sole ultimately responsible and authorized entity that is going to engage in finding solutions to the environmental and social problems of MCMZ and municipal communities of River Basin that are involved in water supply and wastewater disposal. The advantages of this option involve (a) greater joint financial capabilities of MCMZ and River Basin communities to solve problems, (b) more excessive joint planning and management capabilities to execute large-scale projects and opportunities for experience exchange, (c) more extended joint experience and expertise in finding solutions to social and environmental problems of the city and the region. Disadvantages include (a) previous history of systematic failure to find and implement sustainable solutions by a single responsible entity (Federal water Commission), (b) tendency of local authorities towards corruption, (c) the history of social tensions between MCMZ and River Basin communities that may lead to resentment and a lack of cooperation between Agency members.

The option of contracting an independent entity implies contracting an international organization and delegating it with the authority and resources needed to encounter complications of water supply and wastewater treatment. Advantages of this option include (a) immunity to corruption, (b) unbiased approach to the situation, and (c) the ability to overcome limitations of local governance. Disadvantages include (a) a lack of expertise in operating in unique political, economic, and social environments, (b) management of national resources will be entrusted to the third party, and (c) possible ineffectiveness of efforts aimed to alter the situation from outside without addressing the core problem – ineffective local practices.

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The workgroup would like to request authorization to execute the following tasks:

  • Soliciting recommendations of River Basin Councils in the region and MCMZ;
  • Creating Coordination Group to facilitate efforts of River Basin Councils and MCMZ to coordinate their efforts and consult River Basin Councils to enhance their expertise and support them in developing necessary management and planning capabilities;
  • Creating budget for immediate projects such as replacing old pipeline system, creating wastewater treatment facilities, and ensuring equal access to water resources;
  • Developing and introducing effective water billing system;
  • Developing and implementing educational programs to teach people to be saving with water.
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