Sustainable Urban Water Management in the State of Mexico


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Sustainable Urban Water Management in the State of Mexico



Focus Areas

Geographic Scope




Background and Significance

Overexploitation of water resources is a massive problem in the State of Mexico. Aquifers are the main source of water supply for the State of Mexico and Mexico City, but they are exploited well beyond their renewal capacity. It is estimated that underground water resources are overexploited at a rate of 100 percent or more, with the Texcoco aquifer in the Basin of the Valley of Mexico being overexploited at a rate of more than 850 percent. As a direct consequence, in many aquifers the hydrostatic pressure has been lost, some springs have dried, and the ground is sinking up to 40 cm per year in some areas of the Valley of Mexico. This ground sinkage has resulted in water and sewer services being either interrupted or completely disconnected. The intense overexploitation is further aggravated by the fact that the clayey topsoil in both the Valley of Mexico and the Lerma Valley enhances the runoff of rainwater and substantially reduces the natural recharge of aquifers. Flood risk is thus especially high in the plains of the Valley of Mexico and Alto Lerma; the lacustrine origin of the land, means the natural drainage is very limited, which is made worse by the fact that the largest percentage of the State’s population lives within this area. In order to curb the destruction of aquifers, the Federal Government has forbidden further development. However, unauthorized usage remains a problem.

The state government is constantly pursuing new mechanisms to slow down urban growth and promote efficient water use, but water transfer from other water basins will remain necessary to meet growing demand. Currently, water is transferred from both groundwater and surface water resources to meet the necessary demands, but the extent of these transfer schemes is likely to grow, which could trigger disputes over water resources.

Moreover, water scarcity is a major factor behind water-borne diseases, and human activities are posing a major threat to groundwater quality. For example, in the State, wastewater is generated approximately at the rate of 30 m3 per second (m3/s), about 19 percent of which is directly discharged without any kind of treatment. Solid wastes are disposed of into open pits or partially controlled waste disposal sites. In addition to this is agricultural pollution, caused by the utilization of wastewater for irrigation and the use of fertilizers and insecticides. There is no exact data concerning the health consequences of such activities.

A further challenge lies in the fact whilst laws, standards and regulations have been issued at all levels to regulate water management and make it more sustainable, the full enforcement of such regulations is missing. Furthermore, a lack of consolidation of the bodies in charge of providing and maintaining the water and sanitation services has led to the inefficient use of water supply.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

Since underground water resources are exploited on a regular basis, the water wells are sealed to protect the naturally high quality of groundwater by preventing direct contamination by pollutant leakage. However, human activities pose a constant threat to groundwater quality.

In order to minimize the problem of lack of consolidation of the bodies in charge of providing and maintaining the water and sanitation services, in 2004, the Federal government started PROMAGUA, a programme aimed at modernizing the water operating bodies, and established an independent body for the regulation of the supply of potable water, sewer systems and wastewater treatment utilities. In addition to national funds allocated for the modernization and extension of utility services, the collaboration of the private sector is also being sought through public-private partnerships.

In addition, to reduce the risk of catastrophic floods likely due to the limited natural drainage of the land, which is also densely populated, large-scale drainge systems have been implemented. However, the sinking of the ground and the extreme siltation caused by the loss of vegetal cover lower the discharge capacity of the drainage systems. The State Government has also compiled a flood atlas that gathers information on the social and economic impacts of water-related extreme events.

Moreover, inter-basin transfer schemes have been devised to cope with the growing demand for water, but these have caused disputes between user groups. Through state social programmes, public awareness is also being raised concerning preventive health measures, such as handwashing and clean water storage tanks. Finally, to cope with the poor, and decreasing, water quality of groundwater and surface waters due to domestic, industrial and agricultural pollution, treatment plants are being constructed, yet financial problems have hindered their full realisation. Unfortunately, the capacity of existing wastewater treatment plants cannot cope with the sheer volume of discharge.

Main Framework of water resources development in the State of Mexico
  • Implementation of IWRM throughout the State
  • Giving priority to enhancing the quality and the extent of water utilities for raising the quality of life of citizens
  • Assisting in the consolidation and efficiency of bodies in charge of rendering services
  • Establishing a ‘water culture’ that prioritizes the efficient and sustainable utilization of water resources
  • Involving the private sector in the financing, construction, operation, maintenance and administration of infrastructure
  • Promoting modernization of the legal framework.

Results and Impact

The State of Mexico has sufficient water resources, but is under severe water shortage stemming from a very dense population coupled with an accelerated growth of approximately 380,000 inhabitats per year. The uneven distribution of water resources is causing severe water shortages in densely populated areas. A lack of awareness raising is impeding progress towards more sustainable water management, but a range of activities are helping overcome the most severe water challenges Mexico is facing.

Despite having sufficient water resources, the State of Mexico is under severe water shortages due to the increasing water demands of various sectors, compounded by population growth; overexploitation and illegal utilization of underground resources; overuse of aquifers inter alia. Fortunately, many steps are underway to reverse this trend, but a lack of finance and public awareness as to the importance of efficient water management, continue to impede improvements.

Lessons for Replication

Raising public awareness is crucial. Hydrological and economic difficulties have been compounded by the lack of social awareness towards efficient use of water resources. Undeniably, raising public awareness will facilitate the sustainable utilization of water resources in an environmentally sustainable manner. Coupled with this is the need for people to respect the efficient use of water resources. It has been learned from this case that a lack of such respect might pose a problem for private sector involvement.

Sufficient and sustained funding sources are also vital for the long-term sustainable solutions to efficient water management.

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions

The Experience at a Glance

Implementing Agency(ies)


See also

Additional case studies in Mexico

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    External Resources

    WWDR2 case study summary -



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