HotSpots H2O: Locals, Citing Water Concerns, Resist Mexico City Airport Plan

An early morning bird’s eye view of Benito Juarez International Airport, Mexico City. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mexico City’s indigenous residents are pushing back against the revised plan for expanding the megacity’s airport infrastructure. They say the budding project, located some 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of the capital, could devastate local groundwater resources and disrupt their way of life.  

The new airport plan envisages three separate hubs close to the city, involving a conversion of the Santa Lucia military base, as well as upgrades to two current airports, in Mexico City and nearby Toluca. Locals say that the massive reconstruction in Santa Lucia poses a threat to the already-depleted aquifer beneath the airbase. 

Semarnat, the head of Mexico’s environment ministry, claims that any issues involving water supply to the Santa Lucia project have been resolved. The government insists that the project will respect both the environment and the communities surrounding the new site. 

Despite the assurances, many residents remain concerned. 

“Water is a vital liquid that moves us all,” Filiberto Mena Laiza, an indigenous farmer turned street vendor in Mexico City told Reuters. “Where will all the water that will be needed to maintain this monster come from?”

Other critics note that, even if the water supply to the airport is well-planned, the surrounding boom of casinos, hotels, and shopping centers will stress the aquifer. 

Past assessments reinforce residents’ concerns. A 2015 study found that the Santa Lucia aquifer is operating at a 58 million cubic meter deficit each year, and experts say the number could be much higher when accounting for illegal wells. A Semarnat document suggested that water might be taken instead from the nearby Hidalgo aquifer, but scientists say that strategy is fraught too due to the aquifer’s heavy pollution. 

For now, environmental concerns have temporarily slowed the project. A group of civil society organizations, law firms, and citizens called #NoMasDerroches (No More Waste) filed for an injunction against the Santa Lucia project. Last month, a state judge responded by overruling Semarnat’s approval for the airport until the injunction is dealt with. Residents say it is only a matter of time before the project is completed, however. 

The three-airport plan was proposed last year by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as an alternative to a $13 billion airport being built in the dry bed of former Lake Texcoco. Lopez Obrador’s proposal was put to a public vote and received 70 percent support among voters, who felt the Texcoco project, spearheaded by former President Enrique Pena Nieto, was too costly and posed too many environmental risks. 

The Texcoco airport, which was roughly one-third finished, was abandoned in October following the public referendum. 

Additional Circle of Blue coverage on Mexico City: Floods and Water Shortages Swamp Mexico City

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