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MEXICO : Water is a worry for Baja’s farmers

Any shortage on the Colorado River could cause hardship for Baja California and Sonora

Mexico News Daily | Friday, July 10, 2015

The farmers of Baja California receive most of their water from the Colorado River for their cotton, wheat and alfalfa fields but shortages have concerned them for years. 

These concerns spilled over at a recent meeting of CILA, the Mexican branch of a binational government boundary agency known as the International Boundary and Water Commission.

At the meeting, held in Tijuana, farmers looked to authorities for answers they don’t really have, at least nothing final on what the future holds for Baja California’s agricultural producers. 

Should a shortage be declared on the Colorado River, Baja California and Sonora would both suffer.

Water managers in the region have developed contingency plans focused on stretching the state’s dwindling water supply such as desalination plants, wells and reservoirs, canal lining projects and novel irrigation techniques to try to solve the region’s water plight.

“There practically has not been one day since I became secretary that the main topic has not been water,” said Manuel Valladolid, Baja California’s agriculture secretary.

 The coastal regions from Tijuana to Ensenada represent the most severely affected, according to Conagua, the National Water Commission.

Tijuana is dependent upon the Colorado River for 98% of its water, while Ensenada is the only municipality in Baja California not currently using water from the river. 

It relies on aquifers, but they’re not enough: the city began implementing water rationing measures last year.

“The crisis that has hit California is still kind of like we’re watching a movie, and we really sympathize with the characters, and we say, ‘They’re suffering,’ and we’re not understanding that we’re part of this picture,”
Carlos de la Parra, a researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte and president of a Tijuana citizens advisory committee on border issues, told the Los Angeles Times.

While California has adopted a 25% cut in urban water use, Baja California has not turned to such conservation measures.

“Mexico may be at the bottom of the watershed, but we are part of the watershed,” acknowledges Roberto Salmón, Mexico’s CILA commissioner. 

“There is now greater understanding of this. People here are feeling they are part of the watershed, and the same thing is happening in the United States.”

The first desalination plant in Baja California is set to begin operating in 2017 in Ensenada.

 The reverse-osmosis facility, a $48-million plant, will supply 5.7 million gallons daily to residents of the coastal city of nearly 500,000, the nearby San Quintín export-oriented agricultural region and the wine-producing Valle de Guadalupe.

Mexico’s National Infrastructure Fund contributed US $14 million to the project, and a $22 million loan was procured from the North American Development Bank. 

A South Korean company was contracted by the state to build the facility. Ensenada has relied historically on its over-burdened aquifers for both municipal and agricultural purposes. This could change significantly in the coming years.

Baja California Gov. Francisco Vega de Lamadrid recently announced plans for another desalination plant south of Ensenada in San Quintín. 

The particularly hurt farmers in this region have been using privately-operated desalinations plants for years to avoid the sparse and brackish well water. The state’s agricultural secretariat estimates the number of such plants in the area at 52.

“By instructions of the governor, we are turning toward the Pacific, through public-private investments,”
said Germán Lizola, director of the Baja California State Water Commission (CEA).

Not only will the Pacific Ocean supply water to Ensenada, but the Colorado will also be used to to pick up some of the slack.

 By the end of summer, Ensenada will begin receiving approximately 6.8 million gallons each day from Tijuana through re-purposed infrastructure, carry water from the river to Ensenada for the first time.

The celebrated Valle de Guadalupe, known worldwide for its wineries, has been one particularly studied area, with projects such as piping in wastewater from Tijuana for agriculture and potable water from the Colorado River being weighed as solutions, according to the water commission.

Some reprieve is in the forecast for the region, to be sure. Predictions are showing a 96% chance for continued El Niño conditions from September to November, with a 94% chance of them carrying on through January, which should bring wetter weather to the area.

Sources: LA Times (en), San Diego Union Tribune (en)

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