For the last year and a half I have spent a great deal of time looking at the chronic water shortages in Mexico City and how it affects people living in North America’s biggest city. In the course of this work I discovered the tragic story of the Rio Magdalena and what it represents for the future of Mexico’s water woes.
Once a city lined with so many canals that it was often compared to Venice, any contemporary visitor to the Mexican capital will notice a conspicuous absence of water. There are no rivers flowing anywhere in the immense urban sprawl because they are all dead — which is to say they are too polluted to support life. All but the Rio Magdalena.
So when Foreign Policy reached out to me looking for ideas for their issue on climate change and the environment, the story of Mexico City’s last living river was a perfect match. For a week I walked the length of this river from its source to the urban sprawl at its terminus. What I found was deeply unsettling: a beautiful river supporting all manner of flora and fauna turned into a tepid trickle of sludge more or less as soon as it made contact with ‘civilization’.