I received this email today: “At Caminos de Agua, we’ve written to you many times to talk about the water crisis in our region and its devastating impacts on rural communities. But, because the crisis is increasingly affecting cities like San Miguel de Allende, it’s clear to us that the time has come to also really focus on educating residents about the current and future risks as well as what can be done on both personal and on community levels to assure the future of our finite water resources. We simply cannot ignore the urban side of our water crisis any longer.”
This is absolutely true, is true in many places around the world, and is due in San Miguel to three things: no rain; increasing population; and agricultural use of water to export to the U.S. What can be done about it?
To start with, we’re not going to stop the population growth. And if it doesn’t rain, we have to find a different way of getting water. We can try to save water with a variety of different measures. Just for starters, we should get rid of flush toilets and, with the ones we have, learn not to flush pee but only pooh. “If it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down,” as they say. Camino de Agua promotes catchment systems in the rural areas, but we should really do that in the city, too. Why not require houses within the city of have catchment systems? Start with new buildings, at least.
But water catchment won’t be much help if rain doesn’t fall. Fortunately, there are technical methods now which may help. Consider AWG (“Watergen“). “The production of drinking water from humidity in the air (AWG) is one of the most important and innovative water extraction solutions available today, used to tackle the growing problem of depleting levels of drinking water in the world. Within a decade from now, it is believed that 50% of the world’s population will live in areas without access to clean, fresh, and safe drinking water.” But to make it work on a municipal basis, you’ve got to figure out the financial aspect. Fortunately, solar power would handle the electrical power aspect, and at present San Miguel’s weather would permit taking water from the sky. (AWG has tested well in much drier climates).
AWG is an expensive solution. But changing agricultural plans may be better. Presently, the area around San Miguel de Allende uses almost 90% of the water for agriculture, a significant portion of which is exported to the U.S. Broccoli, which uses a great amount of water, is a favored vegetable for production. But there are other vegetables which use far less water and might be a better choice. My favorite is edible cactus, which grows in the wild and is eaten by the local populace. But there are many others, such as lima and pole beans, corn, cowpeas, black-eyed peas and field peas, mustard greens, and quinoa, as well as watermelon, okra, and tomatoes. The government should consider forbidding large growth of broccoli and other heavily water-dependent crops while subsidizing crops that don’t use much water.
Does this sound like too much regulation? Too bad, really. But if something isn’t done promptly, the ground water will run out (or become arsenic and fluoride intoxicated for lack of fluid). It seems rather strange that the moneybags of San Miguel are investing in new buildings without considering if they will even be salable if water resources aren’t available.
You don’t have to be a person in poverty to see water as a real problem. If water becomes a major issue, there’s a danger that the entire San Miguel economy will come crumbling down. There’s also a danger that a town which has been rated the greatest city in the world will become uninhabitable.