TBY talks to José Luis Luege Tamargo, General Director of CONAGUA, on improving national water resource networks, and public education initiatives.
THE BUSINESS YEAR What have been CONAGUA’s recent landmark achievements?
JOSÉ LUIS LUEGE TAMARGO We have implemented a very ambitious plan to provide drinking water to the entire population, and so far we have reached 91.6% coverage. There are 12.6 million additional people who now have access to drinking water as a direct result of the construction of a vast amount of infrastructure. We have also made great strides in terms of wastewater management treatment, where Mexico has historically fallen behind when compared with international standards. When President Calderón’s administration took over, the country was only treating 36.1% of its sewage and wastewater, and within six years of his mandate we will bring that figure up to 60%; so far, we have built 385 new plants, rehabilitated 60, and we are currently developing many more, of which three are among the largest in the world. Two of these plants are being built in Guadalajara, which will treat all the wastewater of that region. At the same time, we expect that the Atotonilco water treatment plant near Mexico City will be operating by year 2014, a facility that will have the capacity to treat 60% of the wastewater of the entire valley of Mexico by itself, or in other words, serve 20 million people.
What are the main upcoming targets for CONAGUA?
As part of the national development plan, our main targets for the future are to work on large infrastructure projects that have a long-term vision, especially regarding water sustainability. For example, currently we are constructing the Zapotillo dam, a large and very important project to provide water to the areas of León and Guadalajara. Such projects are vital to attract private investment. In the last six years we have tripled the overall figures for private investment, and we want to continue with this trend. Furthermore, over the last six years, the total investments made by CONAGUA are double or even triple those of the previous period.
What are the main challenges facing the balancing out of water supply distribution, and what can be done to address these?
Mexico’s main challenge is the decrease in water availability, both from surface and underground sources, as well as the overexploitation of underground wells. It is envisaged that our main projects will address this situation, but there is a long road ahead of us, and I believe that the work done in the last six years has been very positive in terms of sustainability.
What other key projects do you have in the pipeline?
We have two ongoing projects that are being prepared for the provision of drinking water that may receive funding from the National Infrastructure Fund (FNI). The first is Monterrey VI, which is a Ps13.9 billion project to be completed over a period of 48 months. It is an aqueduct that will stretch 136 kilometers with pipes of 84 inches and six stations pumping at 6,000 liters per second. A second project is the Picachos aqueduct in Mazatlán, designed to address the expected water deficits in the area associated with the growing population. The project will cost approximately Ps400 million and pump about 750 liters per second at its stations and have a service life of 50 years.
The Water Agenda 2030 formulated the country’s commitment to the consolidation of a sustainable water policy for the future. How has the development of the vision progressed and what are the core aims?
Conceived to respond to water issues and reverse the tendencies that affect the sustainability of economic and human development as a whole, the Water Agenda 2030 was integrated in 2010 with an increased focus on the participation of society. Since its inception, we have emphasized that the agenda is not simply a compiling of CONAGUA’s objectives over the next two decades. On the contrary, it is a result of the strong collaboration to identify and characterize the changes that are required to achieve long-term sustainability. The challenges ahead are large and complex; the agenda puts forth a long-term vision to create a Mexico with clean rivers, watersheds, and aquifers that offer universal drinking water and sanitation, while at the same time providing safety from disastrous floods.
To what extent does lack of education among the population remain a challenge to the sustainable supply of water nationwide?
Education is a key part of our national plan; technical advancement through capacity-building courses that provide greater education among the population of Mexico is a strategic matter. In this regard, we are currently taking part in education programs across the country. However, our main focus is on more efficient water use programs, especially within the agricultural sector, because we can teach farmers to save water by introducing appropriate techniques such as drip irrigation. It is also important to work closely with municipalities so they can be part of the global project to achieve water efficiency.
How important are public-private partnership (PPP) schemes in the government’s plans, and what opportunities exist for private sector entities in providing water infrastructure?
There are plenty of opportunities for the private sector to get involved with projects from CONAGUA. In fact, most of our undergoing greatest projects are PPPs, which have been boosted in the last six years thanks to a new law the government of Mexico passed during President Calderón’s administration, making the country much more attractive for FDI. In addition, the government created the National Infrastructure Fund (FNI), and although at the beginning we did not tend to use it much, today CONAGUA’s projects represent about 30% of that fund. In terms of opportunities, I believe that irrigation, greenhouses, and crop selection in the agriculture sector offer a wide range of opportunities for investors, whereas in the industrial area the main opportunities have to do with water treatment—mainly its purification and reuse. This is something we can also export to Mexico’s municipalities, because new technology is required in wastewater management.
To what extent has the regulatory environment been tailored to provide effective industry support?
In 2004, new amendments to the National Water Law were passed in order to encourage a higher level of civic participation, and I believe it was a very significant step forward. In addition, the PPP law, which was passed in 2012, has played a key role in attracting more investment, introducing new technology, and raising awareness among Mexico’s population. I believe that Mexico’s legal framework is ideal to achieve the country’s main climate change and water supply targets. CONAGUA has also approved a long-term working agenda in order to work with a clear future vision regardless of the change of government.
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© The Business Year - August 2012