Oaxaca city’s water department is facing a financial crisis as only 38% of users pay their water bills.
Laura Vignon, head of Potable Water and Sewer Services of Oaxaca (SAPAO), said the department is closing the year in the red with a debt of 150 million pesos (US $7.8 million).
She said that a majority of residents aren’t paying their bills despite the city having the lowest water rates in the country.
“While in [places] like Monterrey [Nuevo León] water users pay 250 pesos [US $13] per cubic meter, in Oaxaca they only pay 54 pesos for as much as 20 cubic meters. Nevertheless, 38 of every 100 people registered don’t pay their bills,” Vignon said.
She added that water theft also puts a strain on the system. In the last 11 months, the department has detected and shut down eight clandestine water taps, and those responsible are being prosecuted by the Oaxaca Attorney General’s Office (FGE).
Vignon made a call to delinquent users to pay their bills, announcing that SAPAO will not charge interest in December.
However, many users say they have legitimate reasons to refuse to pay their bills because of poor service: either there was not enough water or it was muddy.
“What good is the water that SAPAO sends us? We can’t even water plants with it because we don’t know what’s in it,” said residents of the Reforma Agraria neighborhood.
Some hotels and restaurants in the city have even opted to purchase their water from private suppliers, paying as much as 900 pesos (US $47) for a tanker truck of water.
SAPAO responded to the complaints in November, saying it had carried out lab tests on water in several neighborhoods.
The department said the discoloration was due to the accumulation of sediment and that it had dealt with problem where it had been identified.