Mexico's Water in the Hands of Private Interests

The control over Mexico's water by wealthy private interests is an important issue facing the Mexican people.

A study entitled The Water Millionaires (Los millonarios del agua), authored by Wilfrido Gómez Arias and Andrea Moctezuma and published November 23 by the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM), gives an overview of the situation based on analysis of data from the National Water Commission (Conagua) based on the Public Registry of Water Rights (Repda) for the use of surface and underground streams.

The report informs that 3,304 companies, civil society organizations and individuals use concessions totalling 13,183,000 cubic hectometres of water per year, mostly drawn from over-exploited aquifers. This amounts to 22.3 per cent of Mexico's water resources.

There are 6,247 users that each have a concession to extract around one million cubic metres, which represents 61.4 percent of the concessioned waters throughout the country. Among these are Petróleos Mexicanos and the Federal Electricity Commission, the report states, as well as breweries, steelmakers, agro-industries, mining companies, paper companies, automotive companies, bottlers, among other sectors across Mexico, especially in  central Mexico, the southeast, the northwest and the Yucatan Peninsula.

The Mexican operations of ArcelorMittal (the world's largest steelmaker) use enough water each year to fill 100 and a half Azteca stadiums (which have a capacity of 87,523 people). It mainly extracts water in the Las Truchas common lands, where it has its largest open pit mine, and in the steel complex located in Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán. The water is primarily used for the production of steel, with the magnitude of the extraction of this natural resource reflected in the constant demands from surrounding communities for the remediation of lands affected by mining and its contamination. The gold mining companies GoldCorp and Buenavista, both part of Grupo México, are also major consumers of water. Contamination of water with arsenic, often used in gold mining, a chemical which can cause cancers of the skin, bladder, liver, kidneys and lungs, is also a problem in numerous communities.

Kimberly-Clark is another of the "water millionaires." It manufactures and distributes cleaning, personal care and hygiene products. It has been denounced for polluting rivers and springs in Veracruz, Querétaro and Michoacán, and has a concession of 27.3 million cubic metres of water per year.

There are banking institutions such as BBVA, which has water concessions in over-exploited aquifers, with 1.6 million cubic metres a year in the Atemajac, near Guadalajara, and Banco Azteca, with 2.2 million in the Mexico Valley. "The growing participation of banks as users of large water concessions continues to be a matter of concern" states the report, noting the possibility of the "creation of an international water market and control over water as a commodity becoming increasingly important, in the face of a future imminent degradation of that resource."

The researchers explain that there are no legal limits regarding the volumes of water that can be concessioned to individuals. This is due to the fact that in 1992 the Mexican Congress approved a National Water Law in order to give private investors greater certainty about their water rights. From 1993 to January 2020, Conagua has granted a total of 514,684 titles and permits, distributed among 361,600 users.

The National Water Law allows individuals to have water that is concessioned for different uses, which also helps them save millions of pesos in taxes by misreporting how the water has been used. In addition, one user might have concessions granted in the name of relatives, partners or representatives. Companies like Coca-Cola and Grupo Lala take advantage of this loophole, according to the investigation. "Hence, some companies have hoarded large amounts of water" to the detriment of the quality of the water and of the common good.

Regulations are required to close these loopholes to avoid "speculation" about the supply and demand for water. This would also allow Conagua to stop granting concessions on over-exploited aquifers and, likewise, guarantee the population their human right to water, the report states.

According to the researchers, of the 653 aquifers that exist in the country, 115 are over exploited. In 99 of them, large Latin American companies have concessions.

A study published by the statistics portal Statista highlighted that Mexico is one of the countries with the highest risk of running out of water. Based on data from the 2020 Ecological Threat Register, the country's water stress is one of the highest in Latin America, mainly due to the strong demand that exists in domestic, industrial and agricultural consumption.

(With files from La Jornada and news agencies. Quotations translated from original Spanish by TML.)

This article was published in

Volume 50 Number 49 - December 19, 2020

Article Link:
Mexico's Water in the Hands of Private Interests


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