Ajijic Water
Rick Cowlishaw
April 8, 2013

I went for a walk and came home thirsty. I am sitting here enjoying a big glass of cool water. I got to thinking, where did it come from? We drink a lot of bottled water in the Lake Chapala area especially on the north shore. We order it from the large delivery trucks that carry the 20 liter plastic bottles. For each plastic bottle of water I pay 22 pesos or about $2 US. I average two per week. That’s about (22 pesosx2x4) 176 pesos per month. I pay about 150 pesos a month for my water bill in addition to the 176 pesos for the bottled water.

So I pay more for the bottled water than the city water. I can, for the same 22 pesos per 20 liter bottle, gain from the public water system about 3100 liters versus 20 liters from Ciel, Santorini, and Bonafont. Wow! That is a 1400 percent increase in price over the basic product (3100/20x100). For the poor, this places a large financial burden on them, and they may even resort to drinking the contaminated city water.

This water is purified in Guadalajara at the different soft drink factories. Ciel water is processed at Coca Cola, Santorini at Pepsi and Bonafont at Grupo Danone. The different factories already have reverse osmosis equipment for the making of their soft drinks. They use purified water to keep their soft drink products consistent in taste. But where does the water come from to make this purified water?

The water comes from the Guadalajara water system which is mostly water from Lake Chapala. The companies would like us to believe the water is imported from clean pure artisan wells on the beautiful island of Santorini in the Mediterranean or somewhere similar. The Coca Cola, Pepsi and the bottled water I swig down is processed lake water.

Why do I have purified water in the first place? Ajijic water department obtains the water from six deep wells and then processes it. Yet the water that arrives from the street main is both contaminated and contains dirt and other matter. There was oil sludge captured in my filters. I turned off my filter system to see the water from the city. It is brown! I don’t even want to take a shower in it, no less drink it.

Why? The local water authority (SIMAPA) turns the system off and on. As a result of this method of distribution, the water pipes under the street are not under pressure 24/7. The water pipes are leaky. The soil and whatever else is present next to the leak turns into a watery soup. So long as the system is under pressure, the leaks just squirt out the pipe and the pollutants don’t enter the system. It is when the pressure tuned off that a vacuum is created and draws in whatever is outside the pipe.

Because of the lack of pressure, we store water on the roof (tinaco), have a pump and a cistern. We can either use the tinaco on the roof or the pump to maintain pressure. The water requires a double filter and UV system or a reverse osmoses system. I have the double filter system with the UV light which requires changing the filters every 3 months and the UV light every 6 months. This is expensive to build and expensive to maintain.

But wait. I also drink water from smaller 1 liter and pint plastic bottles sold in stores. These handy bottles of water are now found everywhere. They sell processed tap water, obtained at 4 liters for a penny that they then sell for $3-4. Yikes! It is an amazing job of advertizing to sell a ready obtainable product, water, for such a huge increase in price.

It is OK for 2.6 million Guadalajarans to drink our Lake water. It is Ok to use the lake water to make purified “branded” water in the soda factories. However, it is against the law for people around the lake to use lake water for drinking even if it is purified.

So what can we do to minimize the use of bottled water? We can support the water department to develop a continuous pressurized water system. We can support them in repairing the water supply over time, starting with the oldest sections first.

The city has processed drinkable city water available or could provide this at very small cost. The city could offer water free to the poor and at nominal cost to people in the city who could come by and fill up their 20 liter bottles as a public service. This would allow the poorer people access to clean processed water. The water department could provide a purifying kit with instructions to those can least afford to buy bottled water.

We can make sure our own filter/UV system is working properly so we can eliminate the need to buy 20 liter bottles and the small bottles. We can carry our own water when exercising or walking. We can buy, use and reuse small water bottles we bought at the store. Reducing the number of smaller bottles reduces land fill and street trash. All this would help us be green.

Rick cowlishaw

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