Tag Archives: water

Drought Hits Mexico Hard, Including Oaxaca

I’m reposting this from The Mezcalistas team and Susan Coss, who is a mezcal educator and runs Mezcal in a Bottle throughout the USA. She operates out of the Bay Area of Northern California. There is water urgency here in Oaxaca, where many of us buy water for drinking and household use. We are alarmed and concerned for locals and foreigners alike. The cost of water has tripled as the aquafer has dried up and wells are no longer providing for our basic needs. I’m showering no more than twice a week and wash my hair maybe once a week. When I do, it’s a dribble. I conserve water at the sink by running the water at a trickle. Visitors need to heed all precautions for water conservation!

It rained last night in Teotitlan del Valle. I sat under the corridor, the sheltered part of my patio, in celebration of the forty-minute downpour. But it’s a drop in the bucket.

Please read to understand what is going on here!

From The Mezcalistas

If we needed a reminder about how serious the drought is in Mexico, we got a strong one in the form of the forest fires that have impacted the state of Oaxaca. While the one that came dangerously close to Santiago Matatlan has been fully contained, five lives were lost fighting the fire. About 75% of Mexico is suffering from a drought. The past two rainy seasons have been lackluster and communities are running out of water – even Mexico City is not immune. While droughts are not uncommon, the frequency and severity of them is only increasing with global climate change. There are the short term solutions of providing immediate support and relief, but clearly longer term solutions are required. We cannot be reliant on a good rainy season to replenish rivers, wells and aquifers and must take a long range view to help mitigate times when there are droughts, which fuel devastating forest fires.

We in the mezcal community must ask ourselves and others what we can do. Like everything mezcal related, this is a complicated and layered question. On average it takes 10 liters of water to make one liter of mezcal. Almost  72.3 million liters of water were used to make the amount of mezcal exported to the US in 2023. What can be done to use less water in the production? And what can be done with the 72.3 million liters of viñaza that were created from that same production – what solutions can be implemented to safely return that dirty water to the rivers and aquifers?

But it isn’t just about water usage. It’s also about forest management (and deforestation) and how agave is cultivated and how it could be grown differently to capture more water for the ground. It’s about the responsibility both brands and producers have to the communities where they do business. It’s about the government policies that encourage mezcal production but don’t mitigate its impacts.  

And finally it’s about the decisions we make as consumers when we buy mezcal. We all can and should do better and we are planning continued coverage on these important issues. Be sure to check out the stories below. We have a terrific profile on Chacolo from new contributor Felisa Rogers. The Partida family has been making “vino de mezcal” in southern Jalisco, which some consider the birthplace of mezcal, for five generations. In this profile, Felisa shows not only the tradition of the family, but also how their sustainability measures could be a path forward for the category. Also be sure to check out a perfect pairing with the new Legendario Domingo expression from San Luis Potosi, new tasting notes, a new mezcal math post and links to various mezcal events happening in the coming months.

Saludos, Susan and the Mezcalistas Team

Oaxaca, Water and Back in the U.S.A.

The topic of water, scarcity, abundance, conservation, and consumption has been on my mind ever since returning to the U.S.A. from Mexico, landing in the San Francisco Bay area last Saturday night.  I am here in Santa Cruz, California, now for a week to visit my 97-year-0ld mother.  Almost fully recovered after breaking a hip, I am grateful that she is mobile, fully aware and for our time together.  I am also grateful that I can climb into a hot shower at my sister’s house and not worry (too much) about using more than a half-bucket of water, which is the case in Oaxaca.

In reality, I am aware of the water coming freely from the shower head and faucets.  I am aware that I can ingest this water, keep my eyes and mouth open and my nostrils uplifted.  If some gets down my throat, so what!  This awareness is heightened by my experience living in Oaxaca, where it is dry, dry, dry and water is scarce, scarce, scarce, and ingesting plumbed water is verboten.

On the return flight north, our routing is over the Sea of Cortes aka Gulf of California.  The wide Colorado River mouth is at the notch where Baja California meets northern Mexico.  It is dry, dry, dry.  From the air I can see the salt and silt and the curve of the riverbed undulating like a snake.  It reminds me that water, precious water, is diverted upstream in U.S. territory to sustain plants and animals.   I think of Mexico and the paucity of water, the rough terrain, the few fertile areas for cultivation of food, the high mountain ranges that make up most of the country. Is there hope for the Colorado River delta?  Perhaps, according to this New York Times article.

Water costs money in Oaxaca.  I can tell when the holding tank on the roof of the house where I live is low because the water pressure drops to a trickle.  If I do a laundry — even on low water level and gentle cycle — I will use about almost half of the holding tank!  Now I know why local women soak their family’s laundry in buckets before putting them through a rinse cycle.  This way they will conserve at least fifty-percent of the water usage.

Marianne Kinzer, in the Winter 2013 issues of ReVista, a David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University publication, writes,  “The story of water in Oaxaca, Mexico, a picturesque place that draws international tourism, illustrates Mexican, Central American and worldwide water problems.”


For me, the issue is local. I have learned to collect water.  There is a bucket in the two shower stalls and in the kitchen sink.  I use this gray water to wash floors and water plants and trees.  The dry season lasts for months and these plants are thirsty.  My Oaxaca world is small and focused on the details of daily living — water, food, transportation.  When I run out of water, I call Dany Hernandez who comes to deliver for 100 pesos.  This fills up the tank and life goes on until the next week, when I can safely predict I will run out again (depending on how many loads of laundry I do).  Doing a hand wash has become more of a routine, with the exception of bed linens.  I am constantly conscious of water scarcity, cost and consumption.

For the last few months, as I walk along the dirt road to the casita, I cross what the locals call the Rio Grande.  This is a stream bed that can be a trickle or a rushing torrent during the rainy season that only lasts a few months.  When it is wet, I have to find another route. Usually it is parched and crackled like alligator skin, easy to cross, another reminder of water scarcity.

Someone told me this week that within twenty years the polar ice cap will melt.  Climate change is not a myth.  I may still be alive, based on my mother’s age and if I have her genetic load.  What will the melted ice cap mean for coastal flooding, tides, availability of water beyond the flood?  As I shower and make coffee from tap water here in Santa Cruz, I think about whether the luxury of fresh, clean water will be but a memory.  I believe we are beyond the tipping point.

P.S. I ordered another camera body which arrived yesterday to replace the one I lost.  Facebook iPhone photos of the Puebla adventure are posted if you are interested.  Otherwise, I resume life in the U.S. until the end of June when I return to Oaxaca once more.