Will Mexico's new planned wastewater plant harm lush farmland?

the lush Mezquital Valley, Mexico

the lush Mezquital Valley, Mexico

Sewers of Mexico city  have been spewing “black water” 60 miles downhill to irrigate what is now lush farmland in the Mezquital Valley, in the Mexican state of Hidalgo. Though the stench belies the bucolic view of corn and alfalfa fields, the water is filled with toxins, including chemicals dumped by factories.

Mexico City has flushed its wastewater for the past 100 years to help irrigate this farmland through a series of canals that then trickle out onto the fields. The government recently announced plans to build a giant wastewater treatment plant, the first proactive measure it’s taken to manage flooding wastewater in almost 40 years.

Budgeted to cost $1 billion, the plant will begin operating in 2012 and will clean 60 percent of the city’s wastewater.

Farmers fear the new treatment plant will take away not only the harmful chemicals but also the natural fertilizers thy count on for their crops. Currently, the black water irrigates 350 square miles of the Valley. Because of the toxic brew, government officials direct farmers not to grow crops where the edible part comes into contact with the irrigation water and is eaten raw. This covers vegetables like lettuce, carrots or beets. Spotty enforcement and a flexible interpretation of the regulations often has farmers circumventing these rules.

This leads me to wonder. Having grown up near the southern border of Texas, we were always warned not to eat food from street vendors or risk severe stomach problems – “Pancho Villa’s Revenge”. In light of these farming practices,  the pieces of the puzzle finally fall into place. It’s easy to understand how food there can become contaminated.

Yet long-held beliefs are hard to shake.

A  75-year-old, fifth-generation farmer, Jesús Aldana Ángeles, says “Bad water would never make anything green,” he said. “But here the black waters turn everything green.”