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Water Flowing in Tijuana’s Fixed Aqueduct

Times Staff Writer

Tijuana’s water supply is expected to return to normal today, a week after a rupture in the city’s main supply line resulted in a large-scale interruption of water service, Mexican officials said.

A public works spokesman in Tijuana said Tuesday that Mexico is seeking a long-term extension of the emergency hookup between San Diego and Tijuana that helped augment the city’s needs in recent days. San Diego officials said they are studying the request.

For much of the past week, Tijuana, a city of more than 1.5-million inhabitants, had been largely without new supplies of running water, relying instead on dwindling supplies in home and commercial tanks and on purchases of water from private companies.

The cost of private water supplies was said to have jumped by as much as 300% in some cases during the weekend, as residents scrambled to meet their needs and water salesmen took advantage. The shortage posed particular problems for restaurants and hotels, as it overlapped with the busy Memorial Day weekend, when officials say that the city was visited by more than 400,000 tourists, mostly from the United States.

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Residents Don’t Drink the Water

But the effects of the emergency were lessened considerably because, unlike people in the United States, few residents of Mexico drink the water piped into their homes and businesses. Although nominally treated, authorities advise against drinking the public water in Tijuana because of inadequacies in the treatment system and faulty pipes. Most Tijuana residents buy bottled water for drinking.

Also, perhaps a third of the city’s homes are not hooked up to the state water system, a predicament not unusual throughout Mexico and Latin America. Those residents without running water have long relied on supplies sold by private truckers, who obtain their water from a variety of sources.

And even those with running water are accustomed to the frequent breakdowns of the system.

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By Tuesday, said Miguel Ravelo, a spokesman for the Baja California state public service commission, 80% of the city water supply had been restored, following repair and testing of the ruptured aqueduct. Only portions of scattered neighborhoods, particularly those at higher elevations, were without water, Ravelo said.

Work on the damaged pipeline was completed Saturday and the water supply has been gradually increased since then. A new valve was installed at the underground rupture site--where the water pipe is 6 feet in diameter--to guard against further breakdowns, Ravelo said.

“We should be functioning at our normal level by today,” Ravelo said Tuesday.

Mexican authorities plan to request an extension for perhaps as long as two years of the emergency connection with San Diego that helped ease Tijuana’s needs during the water scare, Ravelo said. The additional water would cover needs while Mexican officials continue a planned overhaul of the entire Tijuana supply system, much of which is antiquated, overtaxed and subject to breakdown.

Doesn’t Meet the Needs

Mexican engineers say the supply carried by the present system is insufficient for the needs of this fast-growing city. Officials have recognized the eventual need to double the capacity of the current aqueduct, which now transports an estimated 42 million gallons of Colorado River water daily to Tijuana.

Since Thursday, U. S. officials have pumped up to 13 million gallons daily south of the border via the transnational hookup, which crosses the border in the Otay Mesa area. The transfer will continue as long as it is needed, officials have said. The link was once used regularly to transport water to Mexico, but was abandoned several years ago when Mexico developed alternate supply lines.


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