Historic presidential decrees create hundreds of water reserves in Mexico

Posted on 05 June 2018

New decrees will safeguard water supplies for 45 million people and many biodiverse ecosystems
The President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, today signed a series of landmark decrees establishing water reserves in nearly 300 river basins. The decrees will guarantee water supplies for the next 50 years for 45 million people, as well as some of the country’s most biodiverse ecosystems and globally important wetland protected areas.

Combined with a handful of existing water reserves, the ten presidential decrees will protect the volume of water in almost half of Mexico’s 756 river basins, representing 55 per cent of the country’s surface water. The new water reserves will also improve the health and protection of 82 Natural Protected Areas, 64 Ramsar wetlands and Mexico’s last free flowing rivers.

 “These new water reserves are revolutionary. They will transform the management of Mexico’s river basins, guaranteeing sufficient water supplies not just for tens of millions of people but for the environment as well,” said Jorge Rickards, Director of WWF-Mexico.

A “water reserve” is a volume of water in a river basin allocated exclusively for the protection of nature and human consumption. This involves leaving a certain amount of water in the rivers to run freely.

Over the past 12 years, a multidisciplinary team coordinated by WWF and the National Water Commission in Mexico (CONAGUA), supported by the Gonzalo Rio Arronte Foundation and the Inter-American Development Bank, mapped the country’s rivers and scientifically identified the amount of water that is required to sustain the flora and fauna of each basin and fulfil the demands of growing human populations over the next 50 years.

Communities, universities, governments and conservationists worked for years to secure these water reserves: their creation will be viewed as a landmark in the fight to safeguard these precious freshwater resources.

"These decrees provide real hope for the future since they place all these basins firmly on a sustainable track that will help to avoid the severe overexploitation, pollution and water shortage that now plague Mexico’s other rivers," added Rickards.

The water reserves will safeguard Mexico’s last major free flowing rivers. This includes the Usumacinta, the largest and most biodiverse river in Central America, with a water reserve now protecting 93 per cent of its water. Along with securing water for the forests and species along the rivers, including the iconic jaguar, this water reserve also strengthens two previous conservation decrees that promote the sustainable use of forest resources and prohibit exploration for oil and gas. The water reserve also protects important livelihood activities for basin inhabitants, such as aquaculture, seasonal agriculture and tourism.

"Water reserves matter because they secure freshwater for nature and drinking water for people. From Cape Town South Africa, to California, communities are suffering when watersheds run dry. Policies like these are needed more than ever,” said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of WWF-US. “Mexico’s network of water reserves stands as a model for other countries to follow in securing their own watersheds before it’s too late."

The Inter-American Development Bank has supported the programme in recent years and is working with WWF to replicate it in the region, starting in Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia.

The Inter-American Development Bank has supported the programme in recent years and is working with WWF to replicate it in the region, starting in Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Colombia.
Ariel view of the Usumacinta River
© Thor Morales/WWF-Mexico
Fishermen in the Usumacinta River
© Thor Morales/WWF-Mexico
Canal that leads to the El Cameta lagoon, Usumacinta River
© Thor Morales/WWF-Mexico
Roseate spoonbill in neast
© Thor Morales/WWF-Mexico
Bull Island, mouth of the Usumacinta River
© Thor Morales/WWF-Mexico