Dealing with water stress

Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón, leads inauguration of a drinking water plant in 2010 ©Alfredo Guerrero/Notimex/AFP

OECD Observer: You are launching Water Agenda to 2030. What pressures led to these reforms?

Marco Antonio Velázquez Holguín: The uneven distribution of water around the country, population dynamics, the development of economic activities, unordered urban settlements, the degradation of water catchments, the overdrawing of aquifers and the effects of droughts and floods, constitute the main problems in the water sector in Mexico. These trends jeopardise the sustainability of water resources.

The 2030 Water Agenda is created with the purpose of addressing those problems. It lays the foundations for integrated and sustainable water management that allows for guiding the management of the resource in the long term.

What are the main elements of the agenda?

The 2030 Water Agenda is a tool that that seeks to deepen and consolidate the sustainable water policy that has been emerging in our country since the beginning of this century. It is a foremost vision: to achieve in a period of 20 years a country with clean water bodies, aquifers and watersheds in equilibrium, universal access to drinking water and sanitation services, and settlements that are safe from catastrophic floods. It applies prospective analysis to the situation in the sector to the year 2030, and provides the initiatives required to promote change in the institutional layout, to enable the proposed objectives to be achieved. The 2030 Water Agenda seeks to consolidate a policy of sustainability.

Can you outline some of the main challenges you face?

Balanced supply and demand for water is one: the gap between supply and demand in 2030 is estimated at 23 billion cubic meters. In order to bridge the gap by then, technically feasible solutions with the highest cost-benefit ratio were proposed, such as improving efficiencies in all uses of water and the construction of new water infrastructure.

Clean water bodies is another major challenge. For 2030, infrastructure will be required to treat 7.2 billion cubic meters, which means covering a gap of 4.3 billion cubic meters.

Universal access to water services is a third challenge. It is necessary to ensure service for a further 37 million inhabitants by 2030. The challenge to reach universal access to sanitation services is 40.5 million inhabitants. Settlements safe from catastrophic floods is a fourth challenge, particularly the construction of storm drains and flood control works.

What models have you been looking to for guidance?

With the creation of the National Irrigation Commission in 1926, Mexico’s water policy aimed at increasing water supply for different uses through infrastructure construction. In the 1980s, faced with clear signals that this model was being exhausted, it was progressively replaced by a new one focused on improved demand control. These policies provided an effective reply to the water needs of the country; unfortunately they also inherited serious problems. This reality has led Mexican water policy to adopt sustainability as its central focus. The new orientation has resulted in the growth of investments in wastewater treatment plants, in the replacement of supply sources and in the technological modernisation of agricultural irrigation systems, as well as in the development of standards on environmental flows, and studies on the impact of climate change and the mitigation of its effects.

How can the OECD help?

a) In order to overcome the challenge of providing clean water bodies, balanced supply and demand for water, universal Special FOCUS access and settlements safe from catastrophic floods, the 2030 Water Agenda proposes a general strategy that is expressed in the following guidelines: Ensuring that all the country’s catchments have a sound governance structure, with sufficient capacity to manage water resources, with joint responsibility and in a sustainable manner.

b) Ensuring a better and more balanced distribution of competences, to foster, regulate and provide water and sanitation services, with responsibilities on the three branches of government, to achieve a more balanced national water management system, capable of responding to the present and future water-related challenges.

The OECD can support the efforts of the National Water Commission of Mexico with the participation of its experts in the preparation of studies and events to ensure the achievement of the goals established in the 2030 Water Agenda.

Global Forum on Environment: Making Water Reform Happen Paris, 25-26 October 2011


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