Sewage sys­tem fail­ures plague Mex­i­can tourist des­ti­na­tions

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

MEX­ICO CITY — Sewage break­downs in Mex­ico City’s “float­ing gar­dens” of Xochim­ilco and in the coun­try’s Yu­catan penin­sula re­sort of Isla Hol­box have of­fi­cials warn­ing of threats to res­i­dents and tourism.

Hol­box’s sewage prob­lem hit the pages of ma­jor Mex­i­can news­pa­pers this week just as a re­port was re­leased on the cap­i­tal’s own waste is­sues, mak­ing it clear nei­ther is a an iso­lated event.

Mex­ico has a poor track record of sewage treat­ment na­tion­wide, but Hol­box’s mayor told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Fri­day that the sit­u­a­tion is crit­i­cal on the is­land, whose emer­ald waters are home to flamin­gos and whale sharks.

“On every street cor­ner, there is a small sewer cis­tern,” said Emilio Jimenez, mayor of the town­ship of Lazaro Car­de­nas, which in­cludes Hol­box. “Right now, th­ese are over­flow­ing, and the liq­uid spilling out is urine. Of 81 cis­terns, 21 are fail­ing.”

Lo­cal me­dia re­ported fe­cal ma­te­rial is build­ing up in the low swampy ground around Hol­box’s fail­ing sewage treat­ment plant. A video shows men in tall rub­ber boots trudg­ing through the lush jun­gle, wa­ter filled with fe­ces up to their knees.

The treat­ment sys­tem was built 15 years ago to serve 800 peo­ple and is not equipped to han­dle the in­flux of ho­tels, tourists and new res­i­dents that have flocked to the tiny is­land off Yu­catan. It now has 3,000 res­i­dents and wel­comes about half that num­ber of tourists dur­ing peak pe­ri­ods.

“The sewage treat­ment plant is work­ing at 20, 30 per­cent of ca­pac­ity. It is very old, very dam­aged,” Jimenez said. “The toi­lets in res­i­dents’ homes are back-flow­ing, spew­ing out.”

While tourists aren’t as ex­posed to the prob­lem, they are com­plain­ing about an­other: the is­land’s prim­i­tive diesel gen­er­a­tor power sys­tem has been fail­ing, too, leav­ing vis­i­tors to deal with 95-de­gree heat.

“Clearly, this af­fect­ing tourism a lot, be­cause the black­outs cut off the air con­di­tion­ing in the ho­tels, and the tourists com­plain about the heat,” Jimenez said. “And when the elec­tric­ity goes out, there is no wa­ter pump­ing, so there is a lack of fresh wa­ter.”

While less vis­i­ble, a sim­i­lar prob­lem is af­fect­ing Xochim­ilco’s “float­ing gar­dens,” ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased Thurs­day. A UN­ESCO World Her­itage Site, the Mex­ico City dis­trict is a se­ries of canals and agri­cul­tural plots built by the Aztecs on float­ing beds of reeds, tree roots and soil.

The re­port by the Uni- ver­si­dad Au­tonoma Metropoli­tana in col­lab­o­ra­tion with lo­cal civic group Con­trola tu Go­bierno in­di­cates that most of the wa­ter be­ing fed into Xochim­ilco’s canals from the Cerro de la Estrella wa­ter treat­ment plant con­tains “a high level of fe­cal co­l­iform that in­di­cate sewage.”

The re­port said au­thor­i­ties should con­sider stop­ping the flow of treated wa­ter into the canals since their waters are used to ir­ri­gate veg­etable gar­dens.

Many Xochim­ilco farm­ers have al­ready switched from grow­ing veg­eta­bles to plant­ing flow­ers be­cause soil is con­tam­i­nated from the murky waters. Many of the canals are cov­ered by a green layer of sludge.

The sit­u­a­tion could get worse, the re­port warned.

It said 80 per­cent of Mex­ico City’s waste is fed to the Cerro de la Estrella plant. If it were to be hit with a break­down on the scale of that on Isla Hol­box, “it would be the end of Xochim­ilco and spell dis­as­ter for the en­tire city,” the re­port said.

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