Sep. 22, 2020

Blanca Jiménez Cisneros


Blanca Jiménez Cisneros

Director General, National Water Commission (CONAGUA)

CONAGUA manages and controls Mexico's hydrologic systems, promotes social development, and delivers comprehensive information on water quality and other related issues.


Blanca Jiménez Cisneros is an environmental engineer with a master's in contamination control and a doctorate and post-doctorate in water waste treatment and use. She has over 35 years of experience and has overseen a wide range of roles in her field. She has published over 509 academic articles and books and spoken at 310 international and national conferences. She holds nine patents and documented technologic developments, has been cited over 5,700 occasions, and has a million hits on Google.

Can you tell us about the role of CONAGUA?
Many people do not know what CONAGUA does, and I have worked hard to explain our functions. The essence of the organization allows us to move forward with a clear perspective in each of our projects. We also promote greater transparency and deliver comprehensive information online on water quality and other related issues. We now have methods to do a follow-up on all our procedures in order to tackle irregularity. Before, there was a delay due to a lack of transparency and problems appeared because we did not know who had received, authorized, or signed off on files. Today, there is complete traceability of all procedures. Another achievement is having strategic projects that will be developed throughout the sexennium. This allows us to pursue our tasks effectively and carry out these strategic projects together with the accompanying presidential projects.

Which projects are you prioritizing for development?
Each region in Mexico requires different solutions. To understand Mexico, it is necessary to understand how projects will vary depending on conditions in different regions of the country. Baja California is a beautiful area, for example, but it lacks water. It is surrounded by water and the Gulf of Cortez, which complicates the issue because a desalination plant needs to discharge brine, which cannot be dumped into the Gulf of Cortez. In Monterrey, we are developing La Libertad dam to solve important challenges when it comes to industrial access to water. Monterrey is one of the states with the highest GDP, but it also has a shortage of water. In the north and center, we face similar problems. In Sonora, the Pilares dam also presents a serious problem. Throughout the north of the country, we are doing a great deal of work regarding flood control. Rivers in Mexico are categorized as dry rivers, seasonal rivers, and salty rivers, because there are no permanent rivers as such given our clearly defined rainy seasons. It rains heavily, and cities and towns are not prepared for floods because it has never been profitable to invest in infrastructure. In Sinaloa, one of the main agricultural areas, we have projects that combine dams with river districts to provide adequate water for crops.

In what ways are you incorporating PPAs into your model?
The model is not universally applied, but rather selectively. For PPAs, one requires a viable prospect of repayment. The model is applied when there are more pressing needs such as in the north, where water for human consumption costs much more. We have an aqueduct in Veracruz that serves the petrochemical industry, and this project implements the PPA model because it is aimed at industry. Virtually 77% of CONAGUA's income from water rights comes from industries and the rest of the cities, where PPAs are a viable proposition. In the past, PPAs were promoted but in a slightly irrational way. PPAs for agriculture were created without a source of repayment. If you create a PPA and raise the water rates, people immediately associate that with the privatization of water. It is different in areas where there is no water and prices are high. The government is not against PPAs where there is a source of repayment and a reasonable profit margin.

As urban centers continue to grow, how can Mexico provide sufficient water?
This is a problem throughout Latin America, which overall has an urbanization rate of 80%. Mexico is among the highest due to the lack of standardized nationwide development. And today, we have many megacities, which require the kind of megaprojects that environmentalists object to. Megacities demand an ample supply of water and also discharge a large amount of waste, which is unsustainable. In hydraulic matters, Mexico has a strong pedigree that dates back to pre-Hispanic times.