Restaurant owner Leticia Rodriguez celebrated the construction of a new lakeside boulevard in this northern Mexico city late last year, hoping to bring more people to her business. But now that the La Boca reservoir is almost empty, tourists have stopped to boat, water ski or just eat.
Rodriguez had to lay off most of her staff in April and now runs the restaurant with her husband and children.
The intensifying drought in northern Mexico is not only making everyday life challenging for residents, but in some cases threatening their livelihoods.
“The only hope is rain,” Rodriguez said. “That the tail of a storm also comes so that the reservoir can heal, because that’s what’s killing us the most.”
Last week, Mexico’s National Water Commission declared a drought emergency, allowing the government to take steps to guarantee its water supply. The country’s drought monitor put nearly half of the country – almost the entire north and central regions – in a state of drought.
The drought is related to a weather phenomenon called La Nia, the effects of which intensify with climate change. La Nia is a natural and cyclical cooling of parts of the equatorial Pacific that changes weather patterns around the world. In some areas, such as northern Mexico and the US Southwest, this means increased drought.
The drying up of Santiago’s reservoir is not the only problem for the industrial center of Monterrey, located about 35 kilometers (22 mi) to the north.
Monterrey director general Juan Ignacio Barragán said another reservoir that feeds the city, the Cerro Preto, is at less than 1% of its capacity – originally empty – leaving a third reservoir called El Cuchillo, which is 46% is filled. Water and sewer services.
Under normal conditions, 60% of the city’s water comes from reservoirs and the rest from deep and shallow wells and underground water capturing tunnels.
Over the next two weeks, Barragan said the city plans to expand the use of tankers to deliver water to more outlying areas.
To alleviate the worsening situation, the industrial and agricultural sectors of Nuevo León state agreed to hand over a significant amount of their water rights to the state. Still, experts say the next few weeks will be crucial. If the normal arrival of rains in late August is delayed, the city’s water restrictions will have to be extended.
Professor Aldo Iván Ramírez of Monterey Technological University’s School of Engineering said the situation in Monterrey is worrying – it accounts for 12% of Mexico’s GDP – “it is much worse than in other areas of the country.”
The city faced severe droughts in 1998 and 2013, but now it has become more complicated as only El Cuchillo still has water, he said.
This year’s water crisis has still puzzled many in the city. Some houses had tanks to store water. Many people have now adopted water conservation measures.
“I think this crisis has made people think a lot,” Ramirez said. “I don’t want to see a storm come and shove this crisis and everyone forget it because that would be the worst thing for us.”
Back in Santiago, restaurant owner Rodriguez said hundreds of tourists flocked to the reservoir every weekend before it dried up.
On a recent day, he pointed to a muddy restaurant at the bottom of the lake where lake diners came by boat. It closed earlier this year when the water receded and tourists stopped visiting.
“For me it’s worse than the pandemic, because at least there were people in the pandemic,” said the 54-year-old Santiago native.
Now the ducks walk around the end of the dock in the shallow water where tourists used to board boats for lake cruises.
Formerly sitting on a seat at the floating dock, 65-year-old Juan Perez said he had lost his job along with 60 others when the boat tour company shut down earlier this year. Now he works as a watchman in the town.
“It’s sad to see it like this … it’s worse than a cemetery,” said Perez, recalling the festive atmosphere that reigned here over the weekend.
Officials are trying to get as much water out of La Boca as possible.
They have installed a floating pump, which they hope will pump about 400 liters (105 gallons) of water per second, said engineer Raul Ramirez, whose company installed the pump in Monterrey. They planned to release enough water to keep the rest of the aquatic life alive.
Standing on a dry lake covered by water months earlier, Ramírez said: “We were warned about the possibility that this could happen since last year and unfortunately as a society we have not heard, we didn’t want to understand.”