...meanwhile the longtime-planned expansion of the Canal St. water treatment plant (just downriver from Asarco) to deliver water to Juarez just never seemed to happen-- and after the Conejos-Medanos Aqueduct was announced, TCEQ quietly put up the picture showing ASARCO's plume reaching the Rio Grande the extent of its property....
"Carlos Slim Stages a Border Water Coup [Apr-Jun '09]
In a flashy desert ceremony replete with mariachis and cheering supporters, Chihuahua Governor Jose Reyes Baeza kicked off a huge, new water supply and sanitation project for Ciudad Juarez on November 23. Designed to provide virtually the entire city with potable water while upgrading outdated wastewater treatment plants, the nearly $300 million public works project should be finished by 2009 or 2010, according to officials. Constructed to pipe in groundwater to existing low-income neighborhoods, the new Conejos-Medanos Aqueduct will be the crown jewel of the project. Once completed, the project could serve an estimated 345,000 residents of Ciudad Juarez. Funding for the water systems expansion will come from both the public and private sectors.
"Today we initiate this project of social transcendence," Gov. Reyes said. "Today this dream is made possible thanks to the joint efforts and work of the government, private enterprise and civil society." A much-needed benefit of the project, Gov. Reyes pledged, would be the elimination of the nasty-smelling wastewater spills that make life miserable for residents of neighborhoods like Riberas del Bravo. He called Conejos-Medanos the most important undertaking of his 3-year-old administration.
The water for the project will be drawn from the Conejos-Medanos aquifer that straddles the borderlands. Known as the Mesilla aquifer in the United States, the vital groundwater source supplies the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and other towns on the US side with drinking water. According to Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua state officials, 23 new deep wells will be drilled to provide water for the Mexican side.
Once laid down, miles of new water distribution lines will add a flow of 1,000 liters per second to Ciudad Juarez's water supply, officials estimate. Manuel Herrera, a spokesman for Ciudad Juarez's Municipal Water and Sanitation Department, said each city resident currently consumes an average 280 liters of water every day, a figure which is 120 liters less than in 2000 when each resident used about 400 liters daily. Herrera affirmed that a concerted effort is underway to cut down on wasteful water use.
"We've arrived at these numbers due to the committed work of society and government," he said. "The results have been very positive."
The Conejos-Medanos project has implications for nearby US border communities. Greater tapping of the aquifer on the Mexican side will likely impact future water supplies in fast-growing southern New Mexico, where rapid development has become a growing political issue.
For example, the November 6 Las Cruces municipal election resulted in the election of a new mayor and city councilors considered to hold more growth-cautious positions.
In Mexico, the financing and management of the Conejos-Medanos project is certain to spark controversy. Standing out in the package is the concession granted to the Carso Infrastructure and Construction company (CISCA). Part of Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim's Grupo Carso, CISCA will invest about $100 million dollars in the project and be in charge of its construction. In return for the investment, the company was awarded a ten-year concession by the Chihuahua state government to sell water to Ciudad Juarez's municipal government. No further details about the agreement have been publicly released.
Barely unveiled, the Conejos-Medanos project is already drawing critical commentaries on Ciudad Juarez’s Lapolaka.com news website. One writer, for instance, noted the proximity of the project to sections of Ciudad Juarez witnessing land speculation and highway construction connected to new border economic development plans for the planned binational city of Jeronimo-Santa Teresa on the Chihuahua-Mexico border and Anapra across from Sunland Park, New Mexico. Mexican officials did not immediately disclose whether Conejos-Medanos will directly benefit the two envisioned border growth-zones.
In Mexican cities like Aguascalientes, meanwhile, private management of water supplies is generating public criticism of high rates and allegedly bad service. Last year, the Chihuahua City-based Community Technical Consultants banded together with 13 other farm, consumer and environmental organizations to launch a campaign in opposition to water privatization in Chihuahua.
Perhaps in a pre-emptive strike at nascent Conejos-Medanos critics, Gov. Reyes denied that the arrangement with Slim's Grupo Carso would produce economic hardships for water users.
"This will not have a direct impact on the people, on the bill they receive for home water consumption. We all pay water, sewage and sanitation. This is not going to have a negative repercussion on the economy of Juarez residents," Gov. Reyes contended. "The (Ciudad Juarez) water department, with its financial engineering, is going to cover the cost. The private investment has to be paid. The important thing here is that the department, with its financial management exercises every year, will cover this expense without impacting the population."
The Chihuahua state government's high-stakes investment in Conejos-Medanos was readily evident during the kick-off ceremony held at a desert stopping on the Jeronimo-Santa Teresa Highway just outside Ciudad Juarez. The event was attended by Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz (no relation to the governor), Chihuahua State Supreme Court Chief Justice Rodolfo Acosta Munoz, state elected officials and representatives of the Mexican army. Promised gifts in return for their attendance, hundreds of residents of low-income neighborhoods were transported to the ceremony on private buses.
"This is a project of life," said Uriel Chavez, one of the attendees, told the governor. "Thanks for thinking about us." Gov. Reyes, in turn, thanked Carlos Slim for making Conejos-Medanos a reality and invited the magnate for a toast of water once the project is done.
Sources: El Diario de Juarez, November 23 and 24, 2007. Articles by Luz del Carmen Sosa. Norte, November 24, 2007. Article by Salvador Castro. Frontenet.com, November 23, 2007. Articles by Felix Gonzalez. Lapolaka.com, November 23, 24 and 25, 2007. Ecoamericas.com, December 2006. Frontera NorteSur/Environment, September 2000. Las-cruces.org/vote007."