Sergio Ávila, Executive Director of the State Water Commission of the State of Sonora, travelled to Spain with Governor Claudia Pavlovich. Mr Ávila, with a long track record in the public and private sectors, is clearly in favour of desalination and public-private collaboration as the keys to solve water scarcity in major areas of Mexico. In this interview we hear from him.
Question: Can you describe the institutional framework for water management in Mexico?
Answer: At the national level, the federal government has jurisdiction over water, controlling water uses. Local governments are responsible for providing services to the final users, according to the constitution. This where we have a role: we help the smaller municipalities, which do not have enough resources.
Q: What are the main water resources in the State of Sonora right now?
A: Sonora is one of the largest states in Mexico, but it has a low population density. As a result, the situation differs widely between basins. In some areas desertification is progressing, and yet in others, agriculture and industry have increasingly more weight. Therefore, and since interbasin water transfers are a source of social conflict, we have been thinking about desalination for a while. And now, we have finally moved forward along that path, following the steps of countries such as Spain.
Q.- What are the main characteristics of the Empalme-Guaymas desalination plant?
A: The two municipalities are next to each other, forming a conurbation with a population of 200,000 people. I would like to highlight that we had a clean, different and innovative tender process, and we had world leading companies bidding for the project. With Aqualia we had an excellent winner, and we are very pleased to work with them for the next 20 years.
Q: The State of Sonora is committed to public-private collaboration. How do you think this type of collaboration may help address water challenges?
A: It will be key in Mexico and everywhere in Latin America. The infrastructure is very expensive and the investments municipalities have to undertake are beyond their capacity. It is increasingly more difficult to secure public resources, and that is why we see PPPs as the best solution. However, we do have to take care of the partnerships. There have been some troublesome PPPs, because the contracts were not properly designed. There is a certain social rejection of these partnerships as a result. Hence, Governor Claudia Pavlovich insisted on the transparency of the tender process and the awarding of the contract for this project.
Q: One of the challenges of desalination everywhere in the world is its cost. How will you deal with this problem?
A: This desalination project is not a solution by itself. It has to come together with an integrated management system, a good commercial system, proper metering, etc. All of those elements have to be implemented: we are now working on it, on improving the efficiency of the system.
This has a cost that currently is not being paid for. Those previously in charge did not address this issue, and now we have to explain it to people. We have to help them understand it.