Mexico City faces a paradoxical water crisis. It is running out of water even as floods plague its poorest neighborhoods. Before the Spanish conquest, the Aztecs founded Mexico City in a high-altitude basin of shallow lakes and rivers, but a centuries-long drainage project dried out the valley to make room for urbanization. Now, Mexico City is home to more than 22 million people, and at least 30% of the population does not have regular access to running water. Climate change threatens to reduce rainfall, and the aquifer that supplies most of the city’s water is overdrawn. While long showers remain a mindless habit in wealthy neighborhoods, the water crisis is a daily burden for hundreds of thousands.
In this project, Claire Potter tells the stories of those urban planners and activists who are trying to save Mexico City. They want to build artificial wetlands, resurrect rivers, and reuse water on a massive scale. To succeed, they must convince their government and their neighbors that the environment should be a priority in a country with limited resources and pressing social problems. They embrace small, scalable projects that local governments can build with minimal investment, but they often fail to find sufficient funding because officials are either unwilling or unable to pay. They are behind a flurry of new projects moving Mexico City towards sustainable water infrastructure. Still, no solution underway is large enough to address such a massive crisis.