Water supply and sanitation in Mexico

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Water and Sanitation in Mexico
Access to an improved water source 96% (2010)[1]
Access to improved sanitation 85% (2010)[1]
Continuity of supply (%) 45% (2003)[2] 71% (2011)[3]
Average urban water use (liter/capita/day) 173 (2011, after losses)[3]
Average urban water tariff (US$/m3) 0.32[2]
Share of customer metering 58% (IMTA, 2011), 48% (CONAGUA, 2011)[3]
Share of collected wastewater treated 36w% (2006)[4]
Annual investment in water supply and sanitation US$2 billion (2005) or US$ 20/capita[5][6]
Investment financing 69% financed through the state budget (2006)[5]
Decentralization to municipalities Widespread, except for some states, since 1983
National water and sanitation company No
Water and sanitation regulator No
Responsibility for policy setting National Water Commission
Sector law Yes (1992, amended in 2009), with a focus on water resources
Number of urban service providers 2,517 (2011), including 637 in localities with more than 20,000 inhabitants[7]
Number of rural service providers n/a

Water supply and sanitation in Mexico is characterized by achievements and challenges. Among the achievements is a significant increase in access to piped water supply in urban areas (88% to 93%) as well as in rural areas (50% to 74%) between 1990 and 2010. Additionally, a strong nationwide increase in access to improved sanitation (64% to 85%) was observed in the same period.[1] Other achievements include the existence of a functioning national system to finance water and sanitation infrastructure with a National Water Commission as its apex institution; and the existence of a few well-performing utilities such as Aguas y Drenaje de Monterrey.[8]

The challenges include water scarcity in the northern and central parts of the country; inadequate water service quality (drinking water quality; 55% of Mexicans receiving water only intermittently according to results of the 2000 census); poor technical and commercial efficiency of most utilities (with an average level of non-revenue water of 51% in 2003); an insufficient share of wastewater receiving treatment (36% in 2006); and still inadequate access in rural areas. In addition to on-going investments to expand access, the government has embarked on a large investment program to improve wastewater treatment.


(6% of the population)
(291% of the population)
Water Improved water source 97% 91% 96%
Piped on premises 93% 74% 89%
Sanitation Improved sanitation 87% 79% 85%
Sewerage (2006 JMP survey & census data) 80% 16% 64%

Source: WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (JMP/2010). Data for water and Sanitation based on the WHO World Health Survey (2003) and the Census (2000).

During the past decade, the Mexican water and sanitation sector made major strides in service coverage with water supply and sanitation coverage. As shown above, in urban areas 97% of the population is estimated to have access to improved water supply and 85% to adequate sanitation. In rural areas, the respective shares are 91% for water and 79% for sanitation.[1] Coverage levels are particularly low however, in the South of the country.

Service quality[edit]

Quality of service also leaves much to be desired. The 2000 census indicated that 55% of Mexican households with access to piped water received services on an intermittent basis, in particular in smaller municipalities and poor areas.[2] About 36% of wastewater was being treated in 2006, a share that is more than twice as high as the average for Latin America.[4] However, an unknown share of Mexican treatment plants do not comply with norms for effluent discharge.[2]

A black cylindrical tank and gray satellite television dish on a concrete roof in front of blue sky with a willow branch at top left
A tinaco atop a Mexico City home

In many areas, local water pressure is insufficient and/or unreliable. Thus, many houses have a small water tank known as a tinaco on their roofs. Water that accumulates in a basement cistern, known as an ajibe, is pumped up to it to provide pressure through gravity to the rest of the house regardless of pressure in the local system. In some newer homes, however, key appliances have their own pressure systems,[9]

Water resources[edit]

In 2006, 63% of the Mexican water was extracted from surface water, such as rivers or lakes. The remaining 37% came from aquifers.[10] Due to the strong growth of population and internal migration towards arid and semi-arid regions, many water resources in North and Central Mexico became overexploited. According to the National Water Commission, groundwater overextraction is at almost 40 percent of total groundwater use.[11] In addition, CONAGUA estimates that 52% of the superficial water is very polluted, whereas only 9% are in an acceptable condition.[12]

Water use[edit]

Despite scarce resources in many Mexican regions water consumption is at a high level, partly favored by poor payment rates and low tariffs. In 2006, more than three quarters (76.8%) was used for agriculture, while public supply only used up 13.9%, the remainder being used by thermal power station (5.4%) and industry (3.8%).[10] In 2006, all in all 77.3 billion m3 were consumed in Mexico, of which 10.7 billion m3 were used for domestic consumption. This means that the average domestic use per capita and day was 270 litres.[10]

History and recent developments[edit]

In the second half of the 20th century, the Mexican water supply and sanitation sector has undergone several changes of organization to improve its performance.

1948–1983: Centralization[edit]

Since 1948, during the presidency of Miguel Alemán (1946-1952), responsibility for Mexican urban water supply systems was vested in the Ministry of Water Resources (Secretaría de Recursos Hídricos – SRH) under the federal government. For almost 30 years, the whole urban water organization was planned and carried out by the General Water and Sanitation Committee within the SRH. At the local level, federal Water Boards facilitated some local participation but actually also depended on the SRH.

In 1971, during the presidency of Luis Echeverría (1970–1976), a new committee for water supply and sanitation systems was introduced by SRH facing a high increase in urban population which exceeded the centralized system's capacity to provide services. Despite the creation of more specialized organizations at the national level, the federal government finally had no choice but to decentralize the services to the states and municipalities.[13] The belief that water provision should be a gift from the federal government may be rooted in the policies of that centralization period.[14] In 1982, the Mexican economy collapsed, precipitated by the drop in oil prices, and federal government spending was severely restricted.

1983–1989: Decentralization[edit]

President Miguel de la Madrid (1982–1988), took office during the aftermath of the crash of the Mexican economy. During his administration, municipalities were entrusted with providing water supply and sanitation services within the framework of a general decentralization process. At the same time, state governments were made responsible for technical and financial assistance. They were also authorized to decide about the municipalities' capacity for providing the services. Most municipalities neither received the necessary financial resources nor the technical assistance to fulfill their new responsibilities. That is why in 1988 only 10 of 31 Mexican states had devolved responsibility to the municipalities and where they did, service quality and efficiency usually deteriorated.[14][15]

1989–1990s: Creation of CONAGUA and further decentralization[edit]

President Carlos Salinas, elected in 1988, began a significant sector reform, creating the National Water Commission or Comisión Nacional del Agua (CONAGUA) in 1989, which today remains a key player in Mexican water supply and sanitation (see below). At the beginning, it was given the task of defining federal policies to strengthen service providers through technical assistance and financial resources. CONAGUA, among other suggestions soon recommended to strengthen the decentralization process, improve the transparency of tariffs and introduce tariff autonomy, based on real costs for the service provision and free of political influence. Consequently, many water laws were introduced or amended, partly following CONAGUA's guidelines. In 1996, 21 states had transferred service provision to municipal service providers.[14][16]

The 2000s: Proposals for new water laws[edit]

A 2004 modification of the National Water Law envisaged the transfer of certain functions from both the federal and state levels to newly created institutions at the level of river basins, including financial decisions through the creation of a National Water Financial System. The provisions of the new law remain to be implemented.[17]

In 2015 the government presented a new General Water Law, requiring municipalities to ensure the financial sustainability of service operators. It also promotes associations of municipalities and private sector participation. Furthermore, it clarifies the relationship between federal, state and municipal governments, providing a stronger role for state governments. The law is opposed by civil society groups of the platform "Agua para Todos", saying it benefits the mining and energy industry at the expense of farmers and city dwellers. The water operators' association ANEAS criticizes that the law neglects wastewater treatment and does not sufficiently address the issue of centralized decision-making and red tape. There was little consultation on the draft law and chances of it being passed before legislative elections in June 2015 are said to be low.[18]

Responsibility for water supply and sanitation[edit]

Policy and regulation[edit]

Priorities at the national level are set through six year state development plans. The 2007-2012 National Water Program (Programa Nacional Hídrico) is aimed at reaching the following:

  • Improve water productivity in agriculture
  • Improve access and quality to water supply and sanitation
  • Support integrated and sustainable water resources management in basins and aquifers
  • Improve the technical, administrative and financial development in the sector
  • Consolidate user and society participation and in this way support economic use
  • Prevent risks of meteorological phenomena
  • Evaluate the effects of climate change to the water cycle
  • Create a culture in compliance with the sector law[19]

Federal policies for water and sanitation are set by the CONAGUA, which became a well-established autonomous entity under the Ministry of Environment. CONAGUA plays a key role in the sector's financial allocation. Besides water supply and sanitation, it is also responsible for water resources management, irrigation, flood protection and personnel services.[17]

At the regional level, responsibility for water supply and sanitation vary among the 31 Mexican states. Most of them have created State Water Commissions (Comisión Estatal de Agua - CEA), which are autonomous entities that are usually under the authority of the State Ministry of Public Works. Most of them provide technical assistance to municipalities and some operate water distribution systems.[17]

Mexico-U.S. water treaties are jointly administered by the International Boundary and Water Commission, which was established in 1889 to maintain the border, allocate river waters between the two nations, and provide for flood control and water sanitation. Once viewed as a model of international cooperation, in recent decades the IBWC has been heavily criticized as an institutional anachronism, by-passed by modern social, environmental and political issues.[20]

Service provision[edit]

According to the Mexican constitution responsibility for water supply and sanitation services delivery rests with 2,517 municipalities since the decentralization of 1983.[13] However, a few states deliver services through state water companies on behalf of municipalities. In some cases, the state agencies directly provide water and sanitation services. In rural areas, water boards (Juntas) are responsible for water supply.[17]

Due to different policies and programs at the local level, service is provided directly by municipalities or by cooperatives, public or private utilities, which differ substantially concerning size, autonomy, performance and financial efficiency. Although most providers lack political independence and financial efficiency, there are some notable exceptions that are efficiently operated.[17]

Private sector participation[edit]

In three Mexican cities, water and sanitation services are provided by private companies as of early 2011: Cancun, Saltillo and Aguascalientes. The concession in Cancun, the largest of the three cities, is the oldest concession, awarded in 1993. As of 2011, it is held by Grupo Méxicano de Desarrollo (GMD), which is part-owned by Suez Environnement from France.[21] The privately held shares in the mixed public-private company in Saltillo, set up in 2001, are held by Aguas de Barcelona, a Spanish subsidiary of Suez Environnement.[22]

Services in Aguascalientes are provided by Proactivo Medio Ambiente, a joint venture between Veolia Environnement from France and the Spanish construction firm FCC for the Latin American market.[23] As of 2011, the government planned to award further water concessions beginning with San Luis Potosí, Tijuana and Tuxtla Gutiérrez. A concession law that would improve the legal framework was under review by the Mexican parliament as of March 2011.[24]

The state of Puebla awarded a 30-year water and sanitation concession to the Mexican company Aguas de Mexico in 2013,[18][25] and in 2015 the state of Veracruz created a mixed company following the model established in Saltillo.[26]


The efficiency and quality of water and sanitation services vary widely, to a large extent reflecting different levels of development across the country. On average, the level of non-revenue water in Mexico in 2011 was 38% according to IMTA and 47% according to Conagua,[3] almost twice as high as for well-run utilities. In 2011 as well, the average staff per 1,000 connections in a sample of 120 utilities was 5.3 according to IMTA, and 4.9 according to a different sample analyzed by Conagua.[3]

Financial aspects[edit]


The Mexican average tariff per m3 (US$0.32) is about half of the average in Latin America and the Caribbean (US$0.65).[2] However, since tariffs are fixed at the municipal level depending on different legal frameworks, they differ substantially. Consequently, domestic users in Tijuana monthly pay US$1.1 for 30m3, whereas customers in Villahermosa only pay US$0.05 for the same amount.[27][28]

On average only 72% of all bills are being paid. 31% of water customers are not metered and are charged a flat rate independent of consumption. Usually, commercial and industrial users are charged tariffs close to full cost recovery, whereas residential users are cross-subsidized.

Sanitation is normally charged as a small percentage share of the water bill.[29]

Cost recovery[edit]

Since tariff levels and structures vary widely in Mexico, some providers fully recover all costs while others do not even cover operating costs.[2] There are no reliable figures concerning water supply and sanitation revenues in Mexico. However, it seems that the sector as a whole generates a little modest cash surplus, which seems to reflect shortfalls in essential spending on maintenance and modernization rather than financial efficiency.[2] According to CONAGUA, total tariff collections were US$2 billion (MxP21.2 billion[28]) in 2006.[27] According to a 2011 estimate by IMTA based on a sample of 96 utilities, only 73% of the total amount of water bills was actually collected on average.[3]


Mexican investment per capita in water supply and sanitation from 1991 to 2006 in constant US Dollars of 2006[30]

According to Conagua, US$2.2 billion (MxP 28.6 billion) were invested in the sector in 2011,[31] which is US$19 per capita. Compared to the investment from 1996 to 2002, which was between US$3.7 and US$5.5 per capita, this is a significant increase.[32] According to the water operators' association ANEAS, Mexico needs US$6.6 billion investments per year to make up for historic underinvestment.[18]


Investments are financed by federal (61% in 2011, up from 33% in 2005), state (23%, both in 2011 and 2005) and local subsidies (11% in 2011, down from 14% in 2005) and other sources (5% in 2011, down from 31% in 2005), the latter including self-financing, credits and private funding.[31] Two thirds of the investment is channeled through several CONAGUA programs.[5] Due to overlapping planning and budget cycles at the national, regional and local level as well as poor coordinated investment plans, project planning is very difficult.[33]

External support[edit]

Most water and sanitation investments in Mexico are financed domestically. Among the major external lenders for water supply and sanitation are the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, which channel their loans to utilities through the National Water Commission. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) support a Potable Water Quality Control Project in Mexico City since 2005.[34]

World Bank[edit]

The World Bank supported a US$300 million project in the state of Guanajuato from 2004 to 2009, of which 40% were allocated for water supply and sanitation.[35] It also supported a US$55.2 million technical assistance project for the modernization of the water and sanitation sector approved in 2005.[36]

Inter-American Development Bank[edit]

The Inter-American Development Bank has financed a series of rural water supply and sanitation projects in Mexico with a focus on decentralization, community development and participation. It began with a first US$560 million project approved in 1998 community development and participation in 20 states,[37] followed by a second US$292.5 million project approved in 2005.[38] A third phase with a cost of US$200 million was under preparation in early 2010.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Data on water coverage from the UNICEF/WHO Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) 2010
  2. ^ a b c d e f g World Bank Mexico Infrastructure Public Expenditure Review (IPER) 2005, p. 27-31
  3. ^ a b c d e f (in Spanish) Estadísticas por promedios nacionales, Programa de Indicadores de Gestión de Organismos Operadores (PIGOO), retrieved on August 19, 2013
  4. ^ a b (in Spanish) Comisión Nacional de Agua (CONAGUA): Estadísticas del agua en México, 2007, p. 99
  5. ^ a b c (in Spanish) Comisión Nacional de Agua (CONAGUA): Estadísticas del agua en México, 2007, p. 120
  6. ^ 1 Mexican Peso = US$0.09302, (12/31/2005)
  7. ^ Programa de Indicadores de Gestión de Organismos Operadores (PIGOO) del Instituto Mexicano de Tecnología del Agua (IMTA): Indicadores de Gestion Prioritarios en Organismos Operadores
  8. ^ http://www.sadm.gob.mx/PortalSadm/
  9. ^ Grieve, J. Brad (December 1, 2008). "Water pressure systems versus the rooftop tinaco tank in the Mexican home". MexConnect. Retrieved February 23, 2008. 
  10. ^ a b c (in Spanish) Comisión Nacional de Agua (CONAGUA): Estadísticas del agua en México, 2007, p. 60
  11. ^ World Bank, 2006b, p. 1
  12. ^ World Bank, 2006a: The Lerma-Chapala River Basin, p. 4
  13. ^ a b (in Spanish) Pablos, Nicolas Pineda: La Politica urbana de agua potable en Mexico: del centralismo y los subsidios a la municipalización, la autosuficiencia y la privatización. May 2002
  14. ^ a b c World Bank Mexico Infrastructure Public Expenditure Review 2005, p. 71
  15. ^ (in Spanish) Pablos, Nicolas Pineda: La Politica urbana de agua potable en Mexico: del centralismo y los subsidios a la municipalización, la autosuficiencia y la privatización. Revista Región y Sociedad, May 2002, p. 49-53
  16. ^ (in Spanish) Pablos, Nicolas Pineda: La Politica urbana de agua potable en Mexico: del centralismo y los subsidios a la municipalización, la autosuficiencia y la privatización. Revista Región y Sociedad, May 2002, p. 53-60
  17. ^ a b c d e World Bank Mexico Infrastructure Public Expenditure Review 2005, p. 10-14
  18. ^ a b c "Solving the crisis in Mexico's water sector". Global Water Intelligence, April 2015, p. 20. 
  19. ^ (in Spanish) Comisión Nacional de Agua (CONAGUA): Estadísticas del agua en México, 2007, p. 161
  20. ^ Robert J. McCarthy, Executive Authority, Adaptive Treaty Interpretation, and the International Boundary and Water Commission, U.S.-Mexico, 14-2 U. Denv. Water L. Rev. 197(Spring 2011) (also available for free download at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1839903).
  21. ^ AGUAKAN, tu Operadora de Agua, Retrieved on May 5, 2011
  22. ^ Aguas de Saltillo: Nuestra empresa, Retrieved on May 5, 2011
  23. ^ Proactivo Medio Ambiente México, Retrieved on May 5, 2011
  24. ^ Global Water Intelligence:A model approach to Mexico's water future, March 2011, p. 12
  25. ^ "Para Agua de México, la concesión del SOAPAP". Intolerancia. 6 January 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2015. 
  26. ^ "Busca Veracruz inversión privada en agua". www.reforma.com. 4 April 2015. Retrieved 8 June 2015. 
  27. ^ a b (in Spanish) Comisión Nacional de Agua (CONAGUA): Estadísticas del agua en México, 2007, p. 121
  28. ^ a b 1 Mexican Peso = US$0.09276, (12/31/2006)
  29. ^ World Bank Mexico Infrastructure Public Expenditure Review 2005, p. 29-31
  30. ^ Source: CONAGUA; Data on population and deflators: World Bank World Development Indicators database
  31. ^ a b (in Spanish) Comisión Nacional de Agua (CONAGUA): Comisión Nacional del Agua, Situación del Subsector Agua Potable, Alcantarillado y Saneamiento, 2012, p. 3
  32. ^ See also: Investment in water supply and sanitation in Latin America
  33. ^ World Bank Mexico Infrastructure Public Expenditure Review 2005, p. 61
  34. ^ Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA):Activities in Mexico. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  35. ^ World Bank:Decentralized Infrastructure Reform and Development Loan. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  36. ^ World Bank:Modernization of the Water and Sanitation Sector Technical Assistance Project. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  37. ^ Inter-American Development Bank:ME0150 : Water and Sanitation in Rural Zones. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  38. ^ Inter-American Development Bank:IDB approves $150 million loan to Mexico for potable water and sanitation in rural communities. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  39. ^ Inter-American Development Bank:ME-L1050 : Rural Water and Sanitation Program - Phase 3. Retrieved March 6, 2010.

Other sources[edit]

External links[edit]