Is There a Solution to the Water Problem in Guanajuato?

Interview with Francisco García León, General Director of the State Water Commission in Guanajuato

By Francisco Peyret

Francisco de Jesús García León is a specialist in water administration and management. He has a degree in law and a master’s degree in Public Administration and more than 27 years of experience in the water sector, including executive positions in public agencies such as the National Water Commission of the Federal Government and the Board of Directors of the Explora Science Center as Secretary General as well as consulting in the private sector. A former professor at the Universidad Iberoamericana and a founding partner of the firm Consultoría e Investigación en Agua S.C. (CIAGUA), García León has also published articles for magazines on water management and has been a speaker at various national and international events. 

Francisco Peyret (FP): In San Miguel de Allende, as in other growing cities in the country, there has been a constant concern for some time about a significant water problem. There is talk of the overexploitation of groundwater and, especially in the municipalities in the north of the state, the poor quality of the water extracted from the subsoil. In general, a very fatalistic impression of the water problem exists for the immediate future. I have had the opportunity to listen to you at conferences, and I understand that you have a different point of view on the water issue from your trajectory and experience. Can you tell us about your perspective on the subject?

Francisco de Jesús García León (FGL): The concern about water is global. Water management is indispensable to achieving water sustainability. We must respond to the needs of social, agricultural, and industrial sectors with efficiency, innovation, and sustainable development of the water sector. The problem is that we are not using water properly. The water cycle makes it a recoverable resource. We can recycle this resource over and over again, but to do that, we need awareness of its use and the technology to do so. This makes me think disruptively.

Water policies are necessary to establish guidelines to make water use more efficient and sustainable. In the field of domestic service, we are sure that, with the participation and commitment of everyone, we can achieve the sustainability of water resources. It depends on balancing supply and demand. For example, currently in European countries, they take into account the amount of water that each citizen will have available each year according to the annual water cycle. From there, how many liters of water each citizen will have available is defined. There is already technology to apply this type of policy for determining the efficient use of domestic water.

The issue of information is fundamental. We do not have enough updated information, and we continue to work with data from 20 years ago. For example, water allocations in this country are still being given through maps of something that was done in 2004, when there was no efficient equipment in bathrooms or showers. In terms of technology in the use of electricity, we went from a typical 60-watt incandescent bulb that consumed around 0.06 kWh of energy per hour of use in 2000 to a 9-watt LED bulb now that consumes only about 0.009 kWh of energy per hour of use. The same trends applied to technologies are applied to water use.

In the housing sector, we cannot continue to allocate volumes of water when calculating the demand for housing development with 250, 300, or 400 liters. It’s impossible. Simply put, that amount of water cannot be consumed. In many cases, even in low-income housing units with only 50 square meters and four people per household, we want to provide 200 liters, but they will never use that much. This is causing us to have excess water infrastructure. I’ve come across potable water networks that we’ve designed with 12-inch pipes when they should only be 6 inches, and treatment plants that we’ve designed with a capacity of 100 m/s when they should only have 25 m/s. Why? Because we are not up-to-date with the information; we haven’t modified all the structural measures, including laws and regulations and official Mexican standards. This situation is leading us to redesign our processes.

In the industrial sector, we’ve seen how the production of a vehicle has gone from using 20,000 to just 4,000 liters per unit. We’ve also seen technologies for capturing water from the air and for detecting water leaks in cities using satellites, logarithms, and Artificial Intelligence, which will increasingly become more important.

In agriculture, we have the example of Israel, which has a territory covered in desert terrain that now hides green hectares of crops amid kilometers of arid land, thanks to a great Israeli creation: the drip irrigation system. This is considered by farmers to be the global invention that is allowing an intensive cultivation in a smaller territory and with much less water.

FP: According to estimates from the United Nations,  there will be 10 billion people in the world by 2050, so we will need to produce 60% more food. However, this situation will be exacerbated because we will have 20% less water and 20% less cultivable land. Given this scenario, it is necessary to determine how to make the most of every drop, even in the driest fields. I suppose you’ve already talked about the context in which Beyond Water emerged. Tell us about this event.

FGL: For years in Guanajuato, we held the Water Expo (1995-2020) under a model that no longer worked, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s when the «Beyond Water Guanajuato Summit» (2021) emerged. It is organized by the State Water Commission of Guanajuato in collaboration with the World Bank and the World Water Council. Its objective is to bring together national and international experts on water-related issues to discuss and share experiences on how to address water challenges in Guanajuato, Mexico, and worldwide.

During the event, topics related to water management, conservation of aquatic ecosystems, innovation and technology, and citizen participation in water management are presented and debated. The «Beyond Water» event is an important opportunity to share knowledge and experiences on water management and to seek solutions to the challenges we currently face regarding the availability, quality, and access to water.

For this year, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Israel are invited as special guests. We will have conferences and panel discussions on water-related topics, including financing, governance, success stories, the future of water in Guanajuato, and corporate social responsibility.

The “Beyond Water Guanajuato Summit” will take place in San Miguel de Allende from May 31 to June 2, 2023. More information on participation is available at