One of the emblematic canals of the southern Mexico City borough of Xochimilco is now dry after a fissure appeared in its middle section, draining the water and leaving many people out of work.
Some 110 trajineras, the traditional and colorful gondola-like boats that traverse the Xochimilco canals, remain tied up, their owners and operators uncertain about their immediate future.
After the three-meter fissure was identified, workers with the city’s water department created a makeshift dam using sandbags, temporarily controlling the flow of water.
Merchants and trajinera owners have since denounced what they consider systematic abuses of the canals, such as the extraction of water for human use, the spilling of wastewater and the construction of housing projects close to the area of the chinampas, or artificial islands of Aztec design.
Since 2010, the water level in the Xochimilco canals has dropped two meters, half of which was lost during the last 12 months.
“We’ve seen them extract water. Across from here tanker trucks fill up, more than 350 every day,” business people told the newspaper Milenio.
Borough chief Avelino Méndez told Milenio that work in the area should be completed before the Easter Week vacation period, although the underlying issue of several identified geological faults and over-exploited aquifers under great parts of the city has yet to be dealt with.
While some have explained the crack as the inevitable continuation of a fault identified over a decade ago under the Xochimilco town of Santa María Nativitas, a geologist from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) has offered a different theory.
“As we all know, a great part of the water consumed in Mexico City is extracted from the subsoil,” Sergio Rodríguez told the newspaper El Universal.
“The areas of [the boroughs of] Xochimilco, Tláhuac and Iztapalapa have been subjected to very intensive water extractions for the last 30 to 40 years, depleting the aquifers,” he said.
The specialist added that due to these conditions, events like the crack in Xochimilco are fairly frequent in Mexico City.
“Xochimilco was more obvious because it happened in an area with surface water.”
“This should be taken as a wakeup call,” said Rodríguez, observing that areas such as Iztapalapa have been more affected, with cracks appearing under housing projects and streets.
“Localized but temporary treatments to the soil can be implemented,” continued the geologist, “but the original issue has yet to be tackled: water extraction.”
Rodríguez proposed several solutions, including rainwater collection and treatment of wastewater, which could then be re-injected or “returned to the zone.”
“We can’t talk about replenishing the whole Mexico City aquifer, but at least do so in localized sites, like Xochimilco.”