Category Archives: Water issues

Prepping in Mexico –Contaminated Water

Mexico has more than its fair share of polluted waterways. Nearly 70% of Mexican rivers have some type of harmful contamination.

Grupo México, the largest mining company in Mexico, has been implicated in 120 environmental damaging instances since 2000. On July 9, 2019, the company dumped 3,000 liters of sulfuric acid into that water in Guaymas, Sonora. In 2014, a subsidiary of Grupo México was responsible for a spill of 40,000 cubic meters of copper sulfate acid solution which affected the drinking water of more than 22,000 people.

However, Grupo México is not the only company contaminating the water supply. A few days after this incident, 2,000 cubic meters of water were polluted with cyanide in the town of El Oro, Durango. This time the culprit was a ProyectoMagistrals mine.

On July 21, a huge wave of toxic foam formed in the irrigation canal near the Valsequillo dam in Puebla. It was created by the mixture of pollutants, including lead, cadmium, solvents, paints and engine oil, that had been dumped into it combined with household organic waste. 

The Santiago River in Jalisco is another toxic water source. The heavy metal contamination caused by farm and factory dumping has caused a range of illnesses including kidney disease and cancer among local residents. In fact, the water is so toxic, that an 8-year-old boy died of arsenic poisoning in 2008 after falling in the river.

Up to 1/4 of all children born to lakeside communities in the state of Hidalgo have birth defects attributed to the polluted water. Sewage from Mexico City is pumped directly into the water reservoir.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), most regions of Mexico have strongly or excessively contaminated drinking water.  Up to one-third of gastrointestinal problems in the country are the result of feces-contaminated drinking water. In Oaxaca, 54 of every 100,000 inhabitants die because of bad water. Some experts estimate that more than 12 million people in Mexico lack drinkable water, especially in rural areas. 

Unfortunately, water contaminated with toxic chemicals is not safe to drink even after being boiled or disinfected, which does kill certain bacteria and parasites.

Water that is safe to drink should be clear and have no odors. You may be able to pinpoint a problem if your water appears, smells or tastes differently.

If your water is causing your fixtures and sinks to blacken, it may contain hydrogen sulfide or manganese. If there are blue/green stains on your sink, there might be some corrosion from copper, brass or another metal piping. Reddish-brown water comes from corroded iron. Mexico often uses copper or metal tubing to run water to rural communities, so be on the lookout for those stains.

If your water is cloudy, it might have dirt, sand or clay in it. It may also be methane gas making it milky. Foamy water might have detergents or sewage in it. If the water leaves white deposits behind, it might be contaminated with calcium or magnesium. Yellow water could have organic soil run-off or vegetation residue in it or it may be chromium-6, a cancer-causing chemical.

Smells also indicate there might be something wrong with your water supply. If your water smells like bleach, it might contain chlorine or chloramines. Chlorine byproducts include trihalomethanes (THMs) which increase cancer occurrences and are linked to kidney problems and haloacetic acids (HAAs), another cancer-causing chemical that causes skin irritation as well. Low levels of chlorine in your drinking water will increase the risk of exposure to giardia, a parasite that causes nausea, cramps, and diarrhea.

Musty smelling water may contain organic matter. Gas and oily smelling water might be contaminated with gasoline or other semivolatile compounds. A rotten egg smell often indicates hydrogen sulfide. When hydrogen sulfide comes into contact with certain bacteria, it becomes sulfate which causes diarrhea and dehydration.

Fishy smelling water might indicate an excess of barium or cadmium. Barium in large doses can increase blood pressure, provoke muscle weakness and cause kidney, liver or heart damage. Cadmium also is harmful and may cause bone, liver or kidney damage.

You may be able to taste some pollutants. If the water leaves grit in your mouth, sediment might be the cause. A metallic taste could mean iron, copper, lead, manganese, sodium chloride or sulfates. If the water is contaminated with pesticides or other semivolatile compounds, it might have a sharp chemical taste.

Some chemicals can not be seen, smelled or tasted in your water, but still cause illness or death. If you have a rash of sudden deaths among different animal species in your area, water contamination might be the cause.

A water filtration system can eliminate many volatile organic chemicals, some pesticides, hydrogen sulfide, radon gas, and mercury.  Water distillation can remove some pesticides, heavy metals, radium, nitrate, fluoride and salt. Reverse osmosis will remove radium calcium, sulfate, magnesium, nitrate, potassium, fluoride, phosphorous and boron. It also helps to filter out detergents, some pesticides, and chemicals.

Anion or cation exchange, also known as water softening, removes radium, barium and some chemicals. It can eliminate dissolved manganese and iron in low concentrations. Anion exchange units will rid the water of fluoride and nitrate as well but cation won’t. Mechanical filtration can filter our insoluble iron and manganese, dirt and sediment.

Chlorination eliminates bacteria, hydrogen sulfide, dissolved iron, and manganese when used in conjunction with an activated carbon filter. Ultraviolet radiation can handle bacteria and other microbiological contaminants. Ozonation removes some pesticides, bacteria, hydrogen sulfide, dissolved iron, and taste, odor or color-producing chemicals. An oxidizing filter such as a greensand or zeolite filter can rid the water from iron, manganese, hydrogen sulfide and some chemicals.

If you are concerned about your water, you can test it yourself using an at-home kit or send it to a lab for analysis.  Merieux Nutrisciences Mexico and SGS Mexico are two companies that provide water testing services. You may also want to check with your local CONAGUA or El Sistema Municipal de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado offices for a list of other testing agencies.

It also bears mentioning that most Mexicans drink bottled water rather than tap water. Santorini/Epura owned by Pepsi, Bonafont owned by Danone, and Ciel owned by Coca-Cola are the most popular bottled water brands, although there are other water purification companies throughout Mexico. Despite claims to pure water, studies have shown a disagreeable amount of contaminants in bottled water samples. Then there’s the possibility that the garrafón just might allow BPAs to leech into the water. Bisphenol A has been linked to prostate and breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and cognitive problems. 

More recently, small garrafón (water cooler jug) refill centers have sprung up. Using these setups, you could refill your own glass garrafón and eliminate the worry over leeched chemicals. However, I have yet to ascertain where the water that is being sold comes from. It does cost half the price of a garrafón of water from one of those big-name companies, but I just can’t be sure that it’s filtered at all.

Some rural communities have their own manantial (underground spring) which supplies water for the area. The increase in pesticide use among farmers over recent years has polluted even many of these sites. 

With water purity so uncertain, it would be in your best interest to have your drinking water tested regularly

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Showering in Rural Mexico

Today I’d like to talk about showering in Mexico because odds are you won’t get the luxury of a bath unless you are willing to sit in a horse trough in rural Mexico. 

We have a shower and we have hot water, but that hasn’t always been the case. So here are some showering things you might need to know about before stripping down.

C on the shower knob stands for caliente (hot) and F is frio (cold). And even though the hot water control should be on the left side and the cold on the right, that may not be true for the shower you are using. 

bathtub ledge

Showers are often built with small ledges that you can trip over if you aren’t careful. This is so water doesn’t spill out onto the floor. Our shower has a sort of reverse engineering. The shower is slightly lower than the bathroom floor and the floor is angled toward the center drain. Not all showers have that sloping and sometimes you can get quite a bit of water build up around your feet.

If you run out of water during your shower, mid-shampoo, hopefully, there is a barrica (barrel) of rainwater that someone can bring you a bucketful of to rinse out those soapy locks. Running out of water happens more often than you might imagine.

tinaco

Houses have tinacos (those ugly black round storage containers on the roof) that if you are connected to the town water supply will fill when the water is on. The thing is, water may only run two or three days per week. The tinaco is supposed to store enough water to get you to the next delivery. That’s not always the case. 

If you know ahead of time that there isn’t any water for a shower, you can take a bucket bath. When the occasion calls for it, my husband has been kind enough to heat water on the stove to take the chill off my bucket bath. Most homes have at least one enormous aluminum pot that will quickly heat water for your absolutions. Some have electric water heating devices. Just make sure to unplug it before testing the water temperature with your hand.

heating up water

The typical water application device for a bucket bath is a plastic bowl that we call a scooper. It’s the same plastic container that is used for washing clothes when it’s done with a washboard setup. 

water heater

If you have enough water for showering, then you’ll need to decide if it’s worth the effort to turn on the boila (gas hot water heater) or not. I’m a little afraid of it, having had my eyebrows singed before. 

The procedure for lighting the boila is as follows:

  • Turn the red switch to Piloto (pilot).
  • Push down the red button 10 or 15 times in rapid succession.
  • Open the portal.
  • Light a match.
  • Hold down the red button.
  • Wave the match around inside near the pilot light contraption until it whooshes. 
  • Slowly release the button. 
  • If the flame begins to waver, press the red button firmly down again.
  • When the flame is steady, turn the red switch to Abierto (open)
  • Close the portal.
  • Back away quickly.

After you have successfully lit the boila, then you need to wait around for about 20 minutes until enough water is warm enough for a shower. 

Make sure to turn the boila off after your shower. The contraption is gas-powered. If it is not vented properly, the gas can kill you or at the very least cause carbon dioxide poisoning if left on for an extended period of time.

electric water heater

I’ve also had the dubious pleasure of showering under an electric shower head. Although I loved every minute of the hot water on demand, it still made me very nervous. Water and electricity aren’t exactly the best of friends. However, if it is installed correctly and in working order, then there is no risk of electrocution. 

solar heater

The newest rage in our area is the solar water heater. It mounts on the roof and connects both to the tinaco and pipes that lead into the house. Many people who have this setup say that the water comes out boiling and even the knobs are too hot to touch. Yikes! We choose not to get a solar water heater because there are occasions when we don’t have water in the tinaco. If there isn’t water to run through the solar heater at all times, it can burn up the components. 

If it seems too much effort to get hot water, take heart. If your black tinaco is on the roof, the water is a comfortable shower temperature in the early afternoon. 

Most showers are set up on a gravity system. If the tinaco isn’t far enough from the showerhead, you may not get a lot of water pressure. Rinsing long hair might be complicated with the trickle-down effect. During the rainy season, the rain may be coming down harder than the water comes out of the showerhead. Feel free to take advantage of the heavenly shower Mother Nature has provided outdoors. 

rub a dub dub

Bathing children is somewhat simpler. Babies can fit into the sink off the side of the lavadora (washboard). Small children can splash about in the laundry tub. And several children fit nicely in a horse trough, which comes in metal and plastic for your bathing pleasure. 

Now I’ve heard that there are hot water on demand setups, but I’ve never been to a house that has one. I’ve also been to a plomería that had not just bathtubs, but jacuzzis, so they do exist too. These are just things outside of my own experience in this area of Mexico. 

So there you go! Tips for showing in rural Mexico. Follow these and you’ll be squeaky clean in no time!

Tell me, how do you shower?

 

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Water Issues in Mexico

August is National Water Quality Month and World Water Week begins on August 25. 

This year, the rains have been sporadic at best. Approximately 21% of Mexico was suffering from severe drought going into the rainy season. With scant rains in some areas and torrential rains in the other, things haven’t improved. The parched earth hasn’t been able to absorb the quantity of water needed and mudslides and flooding have been the result. 

Global climate change is affecting Mexico’s delicately balanced ecosystems. In particular, the water cycle has been disrupted resulting in less water runoff. That coupled with the seal level increases on the coast from the rise in surface temperatures in Mexico and the increasing intensity levels of hurricanes, and we’ve got a full-fledged disaster in the making. 

With unreliable rainfall, crops fail. With inadequate water supplies, livestock dies. With food supplies dwindling, the people of Mexico starve. 

Then let’s talk about water quality in Mexico. Estimates are that more than 12 million people in Mexico do not have access to potable water. Inadequate environmental protection laws and corruption keep any real water clean up process from happening. 

Take for example the rural communities of Hidalgo. Sewage from Mexico City is pumped directly into their water supply. Mexico City produces 34,000 liters of sewage per second. Is it any wonder that more than a quarter of the children born in these communities have birth defects. 

Water is, therefore, a dwindling resource in Mexico. 

Water is a precious commodity to us personally here in La Yacata as well. The rainy season lasts from June until the end of September. The rest of the year, we must order a pipa (tanker truck) every few months to ensure we have enough water for our animals and such. We are careful with our water consumption and have been working towards permaculture in the back yard. I’ve broken down how we conserve water here.

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If you’d like to read more about surviving Mexico with all its natural and man-made catastrophes A to Z Reasons Why La Yacata is the Place to Be in Any Disaster: A Prepper’s Guide to Mexico is FREE for the next few days. 

a to z

 

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