We Hate To Whine, But...

Why is our water delivery service worse than it was 500 years ago?

Our potable water service here sucks. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard how challenging it is to keep a thirsty growing population living in our desert environment hydrated, but we’re not completely buying that. Because we know that it rains a lot up in the mountains behind town, and we know we could use that water if only we could figure out a way to reliably get it down here.

A 30 mile long water delivery system built 500 years ago worked better than your water system we have today.But we don’t reliably get it down here. We need catch basins up in the mountains, right now we have no way to catch it, only natural streams that bring it down, and some small primitive concrete lined trenches. We mostly depend on well water, which is brought to surface by small electric motors in small spots all around town. You will see tanker trucks lined up at these wells, taking on water to sell to people door to door and business to business. People pay buy water off the trucks when the city doesn’t deliver for several days and the tanks they have on the roof of their home dries up.

The water department here in Los Cabos is known to be one of the most corrupt agencies in southern Baja. Just about two months ago it was discovered that in one-week Mayor Agundez’ sister and then his brother cashed checks from the water department, one for about $40,000 U.S., and the other for about $30,000. Turns out the checks were payment for a no bid job that went to a company owned by the Mayor’s family.

But look how Mexico moved water 500 years ago. The aqueduct of Padre Tembleque, built in the 16th century, is still between the states of Mexico and Hidalgo, on the Central Mexican plateau. This canal system encompasses a water catchment area, springs, canals, distribution tanks, and aqueduct bridges. The site incorporates the highest single-level arcade aqueduct ever built. (An arcade is a succession of arches, each counter-thrusting the next, supported by columns or piers).

Much of the 30-mile-long aqueduct is underground. Its construction was initiated by the Franciscan friar Francisco de Tembleque who arrived in the Americas from Spain in 1542. The plan was to carry water from what is now Zempoala, Hidalgo, to Otumba in the state of México, while allowing all the small villages along the way to tap into the rushing water.

Some 400 laborers from 40 villages worked on the project all those years, and it was financed through the sale of textiles by women of the villages. And, of course, on completion each village was allowed to tap into the water.

This water system is an example of the exchange of influences between the European tradition of Roman waterworks and traditional Mesoamerican construction techniques, including the use of adobe.

And, it seems that such gung ho enthusiasm, a can-do mentality, and the notion of service to countrymen was left behind those 500 years ago. These days we can’t even patch the water pipes beneath the surface of Los Cabos. It is estimated they leak 30% of the water they’re carrying because nobody has the will/knowledge/resources to fix them. How can we be going backwards in this day and age?