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Ensenada’s environmental priorities

By Sergio Morales Polo*

Aerial view of Ensenada

Ensenada's 330,000 people put pressure on the habitat (Photo: Erick Falcón).


I. Potable Water

The current population of the port of Ensenada is approximately 330,000 inhabitants, whose water consumption is estimated at 136.8 cubic meters per person per year (99 gallons per day). This amount includes the water lost to leaks in the distribution system as well as that used to irrigate public gardens. It adds up to 45 million cubic meters of drinking water needed to satisfy the population’s total annual demand.

The amount of water available annually is only 35.6 million cubic meters. This number is derived from the 21.5 million cubic meters extracted from the aquifers that the National Water Commission (Conagua) has authorized, plus 14.1 million cubic meters that is provided by the López Zamora Dam. The difference, 9.4 million cubic meters, is currently being made up by additional extraction from the aquifers, resulting in damage that is already noticeable as an increase in salinity.

Inexplicably, 15 million cubic meters of treated water is wasted annually because it is dumped into the ocean. This water could replace clean drinking water from the Maneadero reservoirs now used for irrigation, thereby making up for the aforementioned shortage and alleviating the pressure on the aquifers.

The utilization of this reclaimed water would also allow the installation of the new desalinization plant to be postponed.  Its location, approved by the city council in 2013, would negatively impact the coastal wetlands at La Lagunita and unfavorably alter the landscape.

On top of all of this, a number of years ago the city was allocated a quota of 9 million cubic meters of water from the Colorado River. However, it has yet to be utilized since, among other reasons, there is no aqueduct between Tecate and Ensenada.

II. Environmental Culture

The city looks dirty: garbage in the streets, vacant lots, and ravine bottoms; run-down, unpainted wooden houses in the very heart of the historic district; a lack of green space; and an inadequate garbage collection system that never meets the mandated twice weekly pickup schedule.

There is also no evidence of significant efforts to foster environmental awareness and practices within the population to improve the city’s conditions. When considered all together, the above indicate that citizens and public servants alike lack a solid environmental culture.

III. Noncompliance of Environmental Regulations

Two of the municipal government’s decisions have been arbitrary. The first was their choice of location for the desalination plant that was contrary to the site previously laid out in the Municipal Plan for Urban Development. Second was their approval of zoning changes, subsequently revoked, that would have allowed construction of dense residential developments along La Ruta del Vino (the Scenic Wine Route).

IV. Marine Landscape

The bay’s natural beauty started to decline when the commercial docks for large cargo ships, fishing boats, and cruise ships were built. If these docks were relocated, it would be possible to reclaim the space in order to improve and spruce up the most important part of the tourist section which is located in the adjacent historic center of town. With this change, Ensenada could considerably improve its shipping image as well as strengthen its appeal to tourism, one of the city’s most important, yet underrated economic sources.

*Environmental activist, writer, and journalist