Residents of Mexico City Are on the Brink of ‘Day Zero’ Disaster as Water Sources Fall to Historic Lows

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Jun 20, 2024

Mexico City is the fifth largest city in the world, with more than 22 million residents. Now, the grand metropolis and every single one of those residents is in trouble.

Mexico City is dangerously close to “Day Zero,” otherwise known as the day the city runs out of water. In fact, some experts say that if it doesn’t rain soon (and a lot), that day may only be a week away.

Mexico City’s Water Supply System Is Running Dangerously Low

In order to understand the extreme water shortage in Mexico City, it’s first important to learn how the giant metropolis provides water for its more than 22 million residents.

A hand under a water tap that isn’t producing water

Source: Freepik

More than 30% of Mexico City’s water supply comes from the Cutzamala system, which is made up of underground aquifers and human-made reservoirs. The other 70% comes from naturally forming groundwater through natural precipitation.

The Cutzamala System Is Unbelievably Low

A recent study conducted by the Basin Agency for the Valley of Mexico reported that the Cutzamala system is currently only at 27% capacity.

Two hands catch water coming out from a tap outside

Source: Freepik

To understand the desperation Mexico City residents are feeling, the city uses about 10% of the system every year. In 2022, Cutzamala sat at 45% and at this time last year, it was at 38%.

The Cutzamala Water System Is Almost Out of Water

With these statistics in mind, one might think the city has about three years of water left, but that’s not the case. The Cutzamala system will stop functioning if it hits below 20%.

A photograph of the mountains behind a desert in rural Mexico

Source: Freepik

While the city may be able to continue for some time by using the existing groundwater, that, too, will run dry in the very near future.

Mexico City’s Ground Water Has Decreased by 20 Inches Every Year

Groundwater is a naturally occurring resource around the world. When it rains, water is stored in the Earth’s soil, pores, and crevices within the rocks. However, while the planet is constantly collecting groundwater, when it’s used more rapidly than it can accumulate, entire regions can dry up.

A river flooding, increasing the natural occurring groundwater

Source: Freepik

Because of Mexico City’s enormous and constantly growing population, the city uses much more groundwater than the rain can replenish. In fact, some experts say the city is pumping out groundwater twice as fast as it is filling back up.

Overuse Isn’t the Only Problem Plaguing Mexico City’s Water Supply

While overuse is a real problem, it’s not the only issue causing Mexico City’s water shortage. Additionally, the already warm city is experiencing hotter and drier years than ever before.

General view of the Zumpango lagoon that is completely dry due to the absence of rain on May 10, 2024 in Zumpango, Mexico

Source: Christopher Rogel Blanquet/Getty Images

Though Mexico City, and the country as a whole, has always been susceptible to drought, climate change has led to a substantial decrease in precipitation and increase in temperatures over the past several years.


Mexico City Has Been Hotter and Drier Than Usual

According to a study conducted at Harvard University, Mexico City’s average temperature has risen by 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 10 years, more than double the global average. Additionally, the city is currently experiencing double the number of exceptionally hot days as it did just a few decades ago.

A woman uses a folding fan while sitting on the couch, clearly overheating

Source: iStock

The extreme heat is affecting Mexico’s water supply in three ways: There is less annual precipitation, water from the lakes and reservoirs is evaporating faster, and people are using more water on average.


What Mexico City Needs Is Rain, But It Won’t Be Enough

Realistically, Mexico City needs substantial and consistent rainfall over the coming months in order to provide sufficient water to its millions of residents this summer.

A father and his child hold their umbrellas in the rain while waiting to cross the street

Source: Freepik

However, while rain would help in the immediate crisis, many experts argue that a rainy few months is not nearly enough to save Mexico City from running out of water.


The Government of Mexico City Desperately Needs to Invest in Infrastructure

In addition to rainfall, Mexico City desperately needs to invest in its water infrastructure if it wants to completely solve the ongoing water crisis. Water for Mexico City needs to travel along an 8,000-mile-long grid before it reaches the taps, and these pipes are far from well-maintained.

A close-up photograph of old and rusted water pipes

Source: Freepik

In fact, some experts say that leaks in Mexico City’s pipes cause 35% of the water pumped through them to be lost along the way. Therefore, residents of the city are begging their government to invest in and fix the infrastructure, but the government simply doesn’t want to spend billions of dollars on leaky pipes.


Mexico’s Government Has Defended Its Lackluster Conservation Methods

According to the National Water Commission, nearly 68% of Mexico is currently experiencing moderate to extreme drought. So, water scarcity is certainly a big topic within the country’s government. But residents are extremely disappointed in their so-called conservation plans.

A puddle after the rain on a city road

Source: iStock

Former president Andrés Manuel López Obrador repeatedly told Mexico that Day Zero would never happen, even as they watched the Cutzamala run dry. He insisted that new wells were being dug and that he was working to bring water into Mexico City from the country. But when he was voted out in June 2024, Mexico City residents had yet to see any of these plans come to fruition.


Mexico’s First Female President Has a Big Problem on Her Hands

On June 3, 2024, Mexico collectively elected its first-ever female president, Claudia Sheinbaum. However, it’s unlikely that the new president will make any real changes to the former president’s plan.

Mexico’s newest elected and first female president Claudia Sheinbaum

Source: @BBCNews/YouTube

President Sheinbaum served as secretary of the then-mayor of Mexico City, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and then became mayor herself from 2018 to 2023. She is widely considered López Obrador’s “protégée” and has staunchly defended his response to the water shortage.


When Will Mexico City Run Out of Water?

Exactly when Mexico City will run out of water is still up for debate. There are some, like the former president and the new president, who believe Day Zero will never actually come. However, the vast majority of experts disagree.

A faceless businessman looks at a desk calendar

Source: Freepik

In fact, some say that if the great metropolis doesn’t see a significant amount of rain this week, Day Zero could arrive as early as June 26, 2024. Of course, there will still be some water for Mexico City residents, but they will be forced to conserve and have strict water schedules for the rest of the summer and maybe even the rest of the year.