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Mexico City is teetering on the edge of a massive water crisis

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Mexico City is teetering on the edge of a massive water crisis. The reservoirs that are critical to the city's water supply are at historic lows. Authorities are warning of major shortages. From Mexico City, Emily Green reports.

EMILY GREEN, BYLINE: I was in the middle of reporting this story from my home when this happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIPES RATTLING)

GREEN: This is the water currently coming from my sink faucet.

With a sink full of dishes, the water stopped running altogether. It wasn't entirely a surprise. Mexico City is in the middle of a water crisis. Authorities have restricted water flow from the reservoirs, resulting in low pressure across large swaths of the city and sometimes none at all.

TAMARA LUENGO: The water situation in Mexico City is at a very critical level, and it's getting more severe throughout the years.

GREEN: That's Tamara Luengo, a water expert in Mexico City. The reservoirs that supply around 20% of water to the city's 22 million residents are drying up. They are less than half-full due to abnormally low rainfall in recent years, which means the next few months will be critical until Mexico City's rainy season begins. That's still three months away. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says officials are addressing the water shortage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

GREEN: He says new wells are being drilled, and authorities are repairing equipment to extract more water from existing wells. Aging infrastructure is a big reason for Mexico's water crisis. The city loses around 40% of its supply to leaks. Here's Luengo again.

LUENGO: This unsustainable water management accentuates the severity of the water situation in the city.

GREEN: And climate change is making the situation exponentially worse. For some residents in Mexico City, access to water is a daily battle they are all too familiar with.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

GREEN: Ecatepec is a working-class city on the capital's northern edge. On a residential street, neighbors pour out of their houses. They're eager to show me what they live through. Maria Cristina Plaez holds out a bottle filled with a dark brown liquid.

MARIA CRISTINA PLAEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GREEN: She says, "this is the water that comes through the tap." I leaned down to smell it.

Ooh, it really smells like sewage. It's disgusting.

PLAEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GREEN: Plaez says, "half the street gets this water out of their tap, and half the street gets no water at all." It's been this way for years. To get by, residents here pay for water to be trucked in from private companies. For her family of four, Plaez spends around $70 a month on non-drinkable water just to clean the dishes and flush the toilet. It's money she doesn't have.

PLAEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GREEN: "We make do with the thousand liters we receive, but it's not enough," she says. In some parts of Mexico, water is so precious that armed guards accompany water tanks to make sure they aren't stolen. About 12 hours after the water stops running in my apartment building in one of Mexico City's upscale neighborhoods, a truck arrives carting a water tank. It's a private company. A worker connects a tube from the tank to the building's cistern. Water begins pouring in - 10,000 liters of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER RUSHING)

GREEN: Water here has rarely seemed so precious. Climate change and mismanagement have exacerbated the inequalities between those who have access to it and those who don't. For NPR News, I'm Emily Green in Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBBIE SONG, "I'M DIFFERENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emily Green