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MARIA CUERVA

Apr 25, 2005, 6:46 PM

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Water supply

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I would like to hear what people have to say about the water supply and availability in SMA. As I live in an area in years of drought and the terrain is also in the mountains and very arid, I wondered what your experience in SMA was pertaining to this. Very specifically, where does the water come from? Before it gets to the dam?


(This post was edited by cuerva on Apr 25, 2005, 6:49 PM)



Carol Schmidt


Apr 26, 2005, 6:40 AM

Post #2 of 9 (1271 views)

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Re: [cuerva] Water supply

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San Miguel draws its water from an underwater supply which has been diminished too much, just as is true in most U.S. cities where I have lived and in much of Mexico. The shortage of water is an international concern and every government agency and leader in much of the world is aware of the crisis and trying to respond to it, some with it higher on their list of priorities than others.

Mayor Villarreal has responded in Q & A sessions with the foreign community here that he is taking steps, such as rarely giving any new water permits for land in the higher section of the San Miguel area, though he says there is sufficient water in the lower areas. There is a major volunteer organization which works to compile research on the problem and offer suggested solutions, and you could certainly get involved in that advisory group if you move here.

When the Jack Nicklaus golf resort was first suggested there was major concern about the amount of water a golf course uses on its greens, not to mention all the housing that was planned in the resort area, and the developers first said they would come through with a water reclamation program that would provide not only all the water for the greens but also for sale to agriculture in the area. Farming uses 80% of the water in the San Miguel region and the government has programs to educate farmers on how best to farm to save water.

The Jack Nicklaus project may never happen, it has experienced funding problems, which is true of every major development project that gets announced with much fanfare here and in many places in the U.S. and worldwide, and then you wait to see if it actually happens.

Meanwhile the Mayor recently announced the opening of the city's first water sanitation treatment plant, and he is well aware of all aspects of the problem and the pluses and minuses of all the ways to approach the problem and he has good people on top of it, as best anyone in this world can be said to be on top of the international shortage of fresh water.

I lived in LA during one of the major droughts in which we were ordered not to flush our toilets very often, and water usage was carefully monitored and excessive usage was fined. I lived in Phoenix. I lived in a part of Michigan where we had to drill 190 feet down to find drinkable water--the first underground rservoir was too polluted with farming waste and chemicals--even though just 15 miles away was Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes.

Chicago once announced it was going to tap Lake Michigan in a huge way for water and affect the lake around its total shoreline by the expected drop in level, and there was such a huge outcry that it had to drop the project. (It is named Lake MICHIGAN, we pointed out!)

So if you move here or anyplace, be aware that your very existence on this planet adds to the water shortage problem, and be conservative in your water usage, and take part if you choose in the organizations which are working to address the problem, and be sure to vote in the U.S. for taxpayer-funded projects that address the problem.

There is at least one housing project going on outside SMA which is as ecologically sensitive as you can get, with no electricity other than from solar panels, or so I heard. The very cheap houses ($1100 each) being put up for the poorest of Mexicans now living in shacks or ruins in rural areas just outside SMA by another organization (the Maria Muldaur concert here a few months ago raised enough money for nine more such houses) incorporate water collection systems into the roofs.

So people are doing a lot, but of course much more needs to be done, and meanwhile the world population keeps doubling while the water supply worldwide is finite. Probably we should be doing more on water desalinization of the oceans, but as far as I know only Israel addresses the problem in this way on a major scale.

No simple answers.

Carol Schmidt


wyhaines

Apr 26, 2005, 7:32 AM

Post #3 of 9 (1262 views)

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Re: [Carol Schmidt] Water supply

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There is at least one housing project going on outside SMA which is as ecologically sensitive as you can get, with no electricity other than from solar panels, or so I heard. The very cheap houses ($1100 each) being put up for the poorest of Mexicans now living in shacks or ruins in rural areas just outside SMA by another organization (the Maria Muldaur concert here a few months ago raised enough money for nine more such houses) incorporate water collection systems into the roofs.

So people are doing a lot, but of course much more needs to be done, and meanwhile the world population keeps doubling while the water supply worldwide is finite. Probably we should be doing more on water desalinization of the oceans, but as far as I know only Israel addresses the problem in this way on a major scale.


Hah. This is something that I have wondered about -- rain water catchment. Even in the drier areas like SMA, during the rainy season, there is a lot of water that falls from the sky. Given the endemic water problems in much of Mexico, I have wondered why there is not more use of rain water catchment to supplement the availability of domestic water. I do wonder about roofing techniques, though. Rain water catchment typically requires some special roofing considerations. I have also wondered about the stability of the power infrastructure.

I was thinking about this yesterday, that if every edifice in the US even party provided for it's own power usage through even a modest solar array or even a small wind turbine (in areas where wind is plentiful, as it is in southeastern Wyoming), intertied into the power grid, the overall grid would be a lot more resistant to failures. The problem with this, though is economics. PV panels are still too expensive for this to be economically practical.

My mind wandered to Mexico, then, wondering about the same thing in Mexico. Overall, electricity is more expensive in Mexico than the US, which mitigates the economic cost of PV panels to some extent, but in absolute cost, PV panels are even more expensive in Mexico, especially when one looks at per capita earnings. An $1100 house with PV power _can not_ include the cost of the PV system in that $1100. If they are off-grid, then in addition to the PV panel, batteries and a charge regulator, at a minimum are needed, and none of that is cheap. Furthermore, if they are off-grid, batteries have to be maintained and they periodically have to be replaced. It's not a set it up and forget it scenario, which brings up questions of long term viability. One also has to question whether spending $1000 in renewable energy components in a $1000 house is the best use of that $1k? Are the people who are going to live there have their quality of life improved more by the renewable energy than they would by spending allocating that money in some other way? Questions questions questions.

So while I think it'd be theoretically great for all buildings to have some capacity for generating even a small percentage of the power that they use, I think that given current costs for the technology, there is no economic practicality to it, yet, either in the US or in Mexico. In a few years, though, I believe we will cross a pivot point between the cost of energy and the cost of reliable technology for producing energy from renewable resources.

BTW, for areas where there is sufficient wind, I think we are already about there with wind power. A small, relatively non-intrusive wind turbine (about a 1 meter in diameter swept area) generating around 400 watts of energy, can be acquired for about a dollar a watt. Couple that with a grid intertie, and while still not cheap, the expense isn't prohibitive, if the area is reliably windy. The problem with turbines, even small ones, though, is that they are more intrusive than solar panels, which makes it more difficult for people to accept the idea of having one around.

Okay, enough babble. Time to go write some code, earn some money, and get closer to moving to Mexico.


Kirk Haines


Carol Schmidt


Apr 26, 2005, 8:50 AM

Post #4 of 9 (1247 views)

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Re: [wyhaines] Water supply

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The $1100 houses being built similar to Habitat for Humanity's plan that includes community involvement, for extremely poor Mexicans now living in extremely substandard shacks, have water collection capabilities built into the roofs. The houses which have solar panels are much more expensive ones in a mostly-gringo experimental community. Two different projects entirely.

The $1100 houses don't have running water or sewers though they will have showers thanks to the rain collection system, at least some times of the year; there will be a central flush toilets bathroom for each eight houses. These people are using so little electricity or making so little of a footprint upon the earth that they are not the problem. It is the multi-million-dollar gringo and rich Mexican housing developments going up around SMA which have scads of electrical components which use the vast amount of electricity. And water. The $1100 homes don't have pools and spas and double-door refrigerators and extensive electronics, you can be sure!

Carol Schmidt


wyhaines

Apr 26, 2005, 10:34 AM

Post #5 of 9 (1229 views)

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Re: [Carol Schmidt] Water supply

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The $1100 houses being built similar to Habitat for Humanity's plan that includes community involvement, for extremely poor Mexicans now living in extremely substandard shacks, have water collection capabilities built into the roofs. The houses which have solar panels are much more expensive ones in a mostly-gringo experimental community. Two different projects entirely.


"There is at least one housing project going on outside SMA which is as ecologically sensitive as you can get, with no electricity other than from solar panels, or so I heard. The very cheap houses ($1100 each) being put up for the poorest of Mexicans now living in shacks or ruins in rural areas just outside SMA by another organization (the Maria Muldaur concert here a few months ago raised enough money for nine more such houses) incorporate water collection systems into the roofs."

You confuse me, Carol.

However, the situation you now describe, of putting solar panels into homes with high electricity usage, is the one that makes the most sense in Mexico currently. Given the tiered rate structure, and the very high price for electricity if one uses a lot, the cost for panels is mitigated to the point where is at least not impractical. The initial cost is still quite high, and without doing the math I'm just guessing, but I would bet that if one amortizes the cost out over the expected life of the panels, compared to the current high price of electricity in Mexico (which one can reasonably assume will never go lower than it is right now), there is probably a cost savings to be realized in paying for the panels today. The flipside of that argument, though, is that if one takes the $$$$ that is spent today on PV cells, and one instead invests that $$$$ elsewhere, that money might fuel economic growth elsewhere that exceeds the cost of the electricity that the PV cells would save. In Mexico today, given energy prices, that's probably a tossup. In the US, it's going to be a while before we reach that point for the economics to make sense.

On the rainwater catchment systems, you probably don't have any idea what sort of roofing systems are being used, do you? Clay tiles, probably? Are they recycling the shower water, perhaps for use as flush water for the toilets? Are the houses being stick built, built with adobe, or something else?

Athena and Bill Steen run a project that works in northern Mexico, called Casas que Cantan, that helps people build decent, affordable housing. They have done a lot with strawbale and straw-clay construction up there.


Kirk Haines



MARIA CUERVA

Apr 26, 2005, 11:30 AM

Post #6 of 9 (1221 views)

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Re: [Carol Schmidt] Water supply

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Back to the water. So it's an underground aquifer fed by what? Not snow melt. I'm more interested in the actual immediate situation in San Miguel than in a debate about sustainable systems. Rain contributes certainly. What about a river? Does the river come from a mountain or what? Is that river directed toward the dam? I appreciate your wise words about the world crisis over water. I know this. The wars in the future will be fought over water. But right here and now let's talk about our beloved San Miguel.


wyhaines

Apr 26, 2005, 11:56 AM

Post #7 of 9 (1215 views)

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Re: [cuerva] Water supply

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http://www.imagingnotes.com/janfeb01/tomlinson.htm


Quote
San Miguel de Allende is located about 60 kilometers north of Querétaro and—along with the counties of Dolores Hidalgo, San Felipe, San Diego de la Union and Guanajuato—helps comprise the 1,250,000 acres of the Rio Laja watershed. The Rio Laja flows through Dolores Hidalgo, past Atontonilco and then fills the Presa Allende, a man-made lake near San Miguel de Allende, feeding the water table that supplies the town with water.


That's an interesting article on the water situation in SMA. It fits well with other things that I have read, that much of the current water crisis is being caused by deforestation and poor agricultural practices which reduce the capacity of the land to slow the escape of water after it falls, giving it time to be absorbed.


Kirk Haines


Carol Schmidt


Apr 26, 2005, 12:06 PM

Post #8 of 9 (1216 views)

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Re: [cuerva] Water supply

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I'm not an engineer or any knd of scientist, so I'm just parroting what I think I've heard or read. When the original town that was to become San Miguel de Allende was founded, it was in an area without water right there. The legend is that dogs found the springs which became the site of the city where we now live. Those springs still feed the public laundry near Juarez Park, and women even today come into town and do their laundry by hand at the site. Cement laundry basins have been constructed to line the small park area of the laundry.

Ironically, I was on a house and gardens tour once to benefit Park Juarez and on the other side of that public laundry, sharing a wall, is a very wealthy home with a very large luxurious shower room that is built like a tropical garden. The poor Mexican women who were washing their clothes by hand came over to beg for money from the gringas waiting in line to get into the mansion on the tour. Made me swear off of all future house and garden tours, no matter which organization benefits.

There is a river and a lake, and as far as I know the lake has been used for the direct dumping of dirty water, not as a water supply. The new water treatment plant is helping to alleviate that problem. At least the big stuff like diapers is being filtered out of the sewage before it goes into the lake. Help, any engineers reading this. I have to admit I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the newspaper articles about the project, nor to the ones about SMA's water situation.

Groundwater reservoirs in general don't get replenished right away by rain water, it takes something like a hundred years for water to filter down through all the levels of soil and rocks to get into the groundwater. I've seen signs in town saying something like, "Rain water no longer replenishes our ground water. Please conserve." But rain water alone does not immediately go into any underground water, it takes something like 100 years. That is why one good rainfall season alone does not end a drought. (Any engineers, again, help!)

People who are building new homes out in the area of the thermal springs often find they can tap into a thermal spring themselves for their very own hot tub/spa/pool.

There's nothing like the Colorado River coming down to supply the region, I do know that. The water comes from underground sources, and as far as I know, only rain water replenishes it, over decades.

As for the distinction between the two different housing projects, one that is building $1100 bare minimum concrete form walled houses with pipes to bring the water that hits the roof into the houses, and the other which is an attempt to make an ecological development with solar panels, I thought I was clear. But these posts don't get edited by someone else for clarity and I was in a rush.

The bare sustenance houses don't have toilets, they have water collected from the roof coming in for a shower and for a sink. The plan is for a communal toilet to be built for each 8 houses. These are for people who are now living in abandoned ruins and under trees. The cheap prices are because standard molds for the concrete walls and roofs are being used. If you are interested in helping raise money for this worthy project I can investigate further and find out the contact info. I think it's Casita Linda but my memory does fail me. For the first time in these people's lives, they have a sturdy structure with a door that can lock and a roof to keep out the rain and divert it into storage for their sink and shower.

I've met gringos here who are planning to move to the other community I mentioned, the ecological one, but I'd have to do a lot of digging to find out contact info about it. The word "permaculture" comes to mind as possibly being in its name.

I'm way over my head on this topic. Brian, anybody, can you give more accurate info?

Carol Schmidt


julian3345

May 1, 2005, 7:48 AM

Post #9 of 9 (1123 views)

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Re: [Carol Schmidt] Water supply

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I've lived in two places where we personally relied on rainwater catchment: the island of Hydra in Greece and Hornby Island in British Columbia. The water falling on the tile roof on Hydra was fed into a large cistern beneath the house and during the dry season was pumped up into the house. Every house had such a cistern and there were also public ones located in various uphill spots. During the summer, water was delivered to the island in huge floating rubber sausages towed behind a small tug boat and then pumped into the public cisterns by firehose.

On Hornby Island, the water flowed from the roof by gravity into three large holding tanks, actually built for septic use, situated above ground and below the house. The roof was wood shingle and the rain gutters were enclosed in fine mesh screen to keep out leaves, etc. During the rainy season, we also filled a couple of cheap water beds that we had placed under some trees uphill from the garden so we could water the plants during the relatively short dry season. Both of these islands were basically just big rocks without much artesian supply.

It seems to me... and of course I'm not alone in this...that many parts of Mexico would be perfect spots for rainwater collection and for solar use in heating these tile floors and also household water. Many houses here seem to be built to keep out the sun and let in the rain...kinda topsy-turvy.

A huge factor in water table depletion, especially in Mexico, is deforestation....si j'etais riche...I would plant at least a million trees in Zacatecas! Joan
 
 
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