By Martín Orquiz/La Verdad

JUAREZ – Very early, every morning, Teresa Rodríguez and her family go on a hunt for a stream of water from the faucets in their home at the Misiones de Creel subdivision, where sometimes not even a drip comes through the taps the rest of the day.

“We have to gather water every day. It stops early. Around 9 in the morning, we’re already struggling. It comes back around 1 o’clock in the morning,” said Rodríguez, who has been forced to convert large barrels into water containers.

“We have to wake everyone up in the early morning to bathe. It’s a mess – washing clothes at one in the morning. It’s really, really a bother,” she said angrily.

Her daily challenge to get enough water gets complicated in the summer when water use goes up as the heat requires air conditioners to be turned on.

“Ugh, the AC doesn’t work well, you can imagine,” she said.

Her house sits in the middle of a large semi-desert area southeast of the city that has dozens of subdivisions, inhabited by thousands of families who face rising temperatures in the summer with a limited supply of piped water – and only for a few hours, exceedingly early in the morning.

The families who contend with a lack of water during most of the day live in 34 unincorporated colonias in southeast, northwest and southwest of Juárez, according to data from the la Junta Municipal de Agua y Saneamiento (JMAS – Municipal Water and Sanitation Board), which operates the city’s water service. The problem is worse in the unincorporated areas of Anapra, Los Ojitos, Portal del Roble and Oasis.

In the Valle del Sol area, which has 53 subdivisions and 13,277 homes, according to the Dirección de Desarrollo Urbano del Municipio (The Municipal Urban Development Authority), residents primarily face water pressure problems. There, they get just a trickle of water from their faucets.

Sergio Nevárez, director of JMAS, acknowledges the water pressure problem but said that one can’t say there’s a water shortage because water is still coming through the faucets – even if just in a trickle.

JMAS did not release figures on how many of its 459,000 residential consumers do not get water during the day.

The problem has unleashed a series of protests by residents in some of the neighborhoods such as Anapra, Los Ojitos, Paseos del Alba and Senderos de San Isidro. Protestors have blocked streets, gathered outside JMAS offices or at public events staged by state officials.

Environmental researchers and scholars warn that the problem is getting worse. They point to water scarcity as a consequence of the drought caused by global warming and to the low levels of water in the aquifers which supply water to the region.

They also point out that water resources have not been well managed, that the city lacks water infrastructure and strategies to replenish the water, and that public policies to address the issue have not been implemented.

JMAS officials attribute the shortage to an increase in demand for water service during the spring and summer months, which overwhelms the infrastructure – obsolete in some places – causing a 20% to 30% decline in water pressure. Add to this thefts, leaks and waste of water, officials said.

‘It’s not enough’

Beyond the data, the residents of the neighborhoods that don’t get enough water are focused on how to deal with this situation.

To battle the heat, Juárez residents have to store water overnight for use during the day. (By Rey. R. Jauregui)

José Roberto Meza, who works in the maquila industry, has lived in the Misiones de Creel subdivision for seven years.

“It’s been a struggle because, truly, there is no water during the day and it starts coming around 11 or 12 at night. We have to stay awake to fill the barrels and pots. We fill them enough to get by, but it’s not enough,” he said as he pours a pitcher of water into the air conditioning unit set in one of the windows of his home.

He said that the water supply flows until 6 or 7 a.m., then the pressure starts to go down. And by 8 a.m., there is no water coming through the tap. It’s not until the next night that he’ll have the chance to fill his barrels again.

He recalls that in past years, there was little water and low pressure. But this year, since the start of the year, there is no water service during the day.

“It’s been worse this year. It affects everything, for example, to take a shower, to wash clothes and dishes, to pour in the bathroom. It’s the same every time it gets hot. We residents have to pressure the water authority to fix our problem. There are lots of places that don’t have any water at all,” Meza said.

He keeps a half-filled barrel of water to use to flush the toilet; another barrel has water for washing clothes; and another is used for bathing, though they need to let the dirt that comes out of the tap settle before using it to bathe.

Residents in several Juárez colonias store water over night because the water stops flowing during the day.(By Rey. R. Jauregui)

Meza lives with his family in a rental home, and though he has considered moving, he said the problem is the same wherever you go. 

Meza’s family situation is the same as Teresa Rodriguez, who has lived in the Misiones de Creel subdivision for 18 years. In earlier years, there was an issue with water supply in hot months. But the problem now is worse because they get water for fewer hours during the day.

“Sometimes we can’t wash, sometimes we can’t shower, and forget about waking up late. And forget about house cleaning, it’s not the same, or the air conditioning. It’s what I told you, I’m not lying. We spend our time pouring water into it because it’s so hot here,” she said.

Another consequence is children missing school because they don’t have water either. Children have missed lots of classes this year because school activities kept getting canceled.

Several houses in the subdivision have water tanks on the roof, but they’re useless because there are nights when they simply don’t get filled, she said.

The distress is so great that Rodriguez and her family are seriously considering selling their property to move somewhere else, where they wouldn’t have to face this “horrible” problem made even worse when there are children involved – two in her case.

“They just ignore us. They don’t care, they think we can survive. We can, but it’s truly a struggle,” she complains.

‘Zero Hour’ getting closer

Experts and officials agree that the region’s water crisis is a reality that requires action be taken in the coming years. If nothing is done, Juárez residents will reach the so-called “zero hour” – when there will be no accessible water for various uses and the amount of water resources will radically change.

Officials at JMAS expect to reach zero hour 15 years from now, in 2037. Environmentalists believe there is less time left – just eight years, or by 2030.

The “zero hour” means that water won’t be available 24 hours a day as it is now the case in most of the 459,000 homes connected to the potable water network, said JMAS CEO Sergio Nevárez Rodríguez.

About 459,000 homes are connected to the 147 water pumps in Juárez. (By Rey. R. Jauregui)

When this happens, a turn-taking strategy will be activated. In other words, water service will only be available at certain hours of the day or night – just as it is now for the city’s 34 subdivisions.

Others offer separate predictions, including Ana Córdova y Vázquez of the Department of Urban Studies and the Environment at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte: “Whatever is done for the next eight years will define the future of the water supply, among other issues, all over the world.”

She said the next eight years are critical to every sector, individual and institutional, which must act to use less energy, plant more vegetation and trees to capture as much carbon as possible, use renewable energy sources, change consumption habits and, of course, use less water.

The Bolsón del Hueco aquifer, which supplies water to a large part of the region, is a great resource. But because most of its volume is not safe for human consumption, it’s also a limited one, Córdova y Vázquez said.

With the problem upon us, JMAS tries not to alarm but rather to inform people, because for some reason the issue was never discussed and was covered over, Nevárez Rodríguez said.

“In plain language, they kept kicking the ball to the next administration and then to the next. Not me, I have no reason to do the same. I think it’s fair for people to understand and know what kind of water challenges we face,” he stated.

145 water wells; more than 476,000 consumers

Data from JMAS shows that approximately 4.2 billion gallons of water is consumed each summer in the city, a 33.3% higher demand than in the winter.

Most of this volume comes from the Bolsón del Hueco, while a lower volume comes from Conejos Médanos, an aqueduct which supplies water to the western part of the city.

All this causes the fresh water supply to be overwhelmed in the summer when it’s needed the most, officials said.

Of the 190 wells JMAS manages in the city, 20 are connected to Conejos Médanos, only 145 are in working order, supplying water to 476,400 consumers. Of those users, 459,000 are homes, 16,000 are businesses and 1,400 are industries. The rest of the wells are on reserve and are put to use when any of the active wells fail.

A water shortage in Juárez is forcing residents to store water during the day for use at night. (By Rey. R. Jauregui)

Although Nevárez maintains that all the areas in the city are scheduled to get water based on demand, there is not an unlimited stream available because the wells go dry and get old and groundwater supplies are dwindling.

This is not new to Edith Rueda, a resident of the Parajes de San José subdivision, where most of the day there is not even a drop of water.

“There is no water all day long. It stops at about 9 in the morning and that’s all we get. Sometimes we go (without water) until 10:30 at night, but then only a little bit comes out,” said the mother of a boy and a girl. 

Their daily life is impacted quite a bit because there is nothing to drink, she can’t wash or clean the bathrooms.

To bathe, she adds, they use the water they collect at night in buckets and trays because it does not come through the shower heads. Even though she and her neighbors have had meetings with the JMAS directorate, they are offered no solution.

The shortage started last May in her subdivision. Since then, the service fails all day long, so she has to use buckets and even her washing machine to store water and cover her needs.

“You can’t do anything without water. We have no more hope they’ll help us. Who knows what will happen later. Maybe we won’t be able to live here anymore,” she said before saying good-bye because she has to help her daughter fill a bucket of water.

This story was produced as part of the Puente News Collaborative, a binational partnership of news organizations in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso.