In Todos Santos, site of Mexican CSU Center, residents concerned about water

Ellie Mulder

On the outskirts of the small town of Todos Santos, Mexico, up a road made mostly of uneven dirt and tennis ball-sized rocks, 55-year-old Nicolas Acevedo Santiago lives in a house without city-provided water. Despite paying his municipal taxes and fees every year, Santiago has often not received water, electricity or basic neighborhood upkeep services — he now relies entirely on refilling three 8-liter tanks once a month to feed and bathe the four people living in his home.

55-year-old Nicolas Acevedo Santiago lives in a house in Todos Santos without municipal water, despite paying his annual taxes and fees — proof of which he holds in the manila envelope in his hands. (Photo credit: Skyler Leonard.)
55-year-old Nicolas Acevedo Santiago does not receive municipal water to his house in Todos Santos, despite paying his annual taxes and fees — proof of which he holds in the manila envelope in his hands. (Photo credit: Skyler Leonard.)

He said he has it easier than many he knows because he does not have a large family to take care of, and he does not drink alcohol or do drugs. But he, like the rest of the town, has encountered the effects — both positive and negative — of increased development and population growth.

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“It’s beneficial for the town, except for the larger issues,” Santiago said in Spanish, mentioning a decrease in access to water and an increase in crime. “Good and bad people come (to town), but it’s good that … there are new streets. It’s prettier now. Lots of tourism.”

Santiago’s is one of several neighborhoods in Todos Santos that often does not receive any municipal water. But even in neighborhoods that do receive it, it trickles in or can be absent for days at a time.

Some activists blame housing development Tres Santos for the dwindling water supply, and McKenzie Campbell, director of the Colorado State University Center in Todos Santos, conceded that growth can cause some problems.

The CSU Center was build on land given to the University by MIRA, the developer behind Tres Santos.

“There are challenges because of the rapid growth,” Campbell said. “Infrastructural challenges is a big one — there are leaks in pipes, and it’s challenging to keep up with the influx of people coming in.”

However, Kim Kita, the director of special projects and partnerships at CSU, said periods without water are routine in this area, and this is an issue with many possible causes.

“What was interesting at the time when they were out of water and there was the question of, ‘Well, is it because CSU’s using water?’, we had zero people on campus, we had zero water consumption,” Kita said. “I think people are looking for connections and trying to figure it out, (but) one thing that’s important is it’s a persistent issue.”

Over the past few years, the town has provided sidewalks and paved roads that were previously dirt and sand, in part to accommodate a growth in both population and tourism. From 2005 to 2010, the population of Todos Santos increased from 4,078 to 5,148, according to CSU’s “Socio-demographic and Environmental Overview” of the area, and that number continues to grow.

Because of the lack of municipal water, Santiago now relies refilling three 8-liter tanks once a month to feed and bathe the four people living in his home. (Photo credit: Skyler Leonard.)
Because of the lack of municipal water, Santiago now relies on refilling three 8-liter tanks once a month to feed and bathe the four people living in his home. (Photo credit: Skyler Leonard.)

Some opponents of Tres Santos, which is zoned for approximately 4,000 units, say there is not adequate infrastructure — including municipal water — to accommodate the number of people the project will bring to Todos Santos. But as of now, MIRA only plans to build 2,021 of those units.

While much of what is planned for Tres Santos has yet to be built, the CSU Center was completed in spring 2014 and accommodates 46 students and 5 faculty apartments.

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Elena Moreno, an active community member who works in real estate, helped create the Todos Santos Master Plan, which was completed in 2007 and voted on and put into effect in 2012. It details environmental and city planning regulations for the area, focusing on resources and infrastructure.

One part of the plan contains exact population growth limitations for the town. The population should not exceed 16,203 by 2030, or 24,152 by 2050, according to the plan. 

“Just this one Tres Santos development, it nullifies the entire master plan — they did not take it into account,” Moreno said. “The violations of the master plan and the spirit of the master plan are egregious.”

Water supply in Todos Santos stems from a complicated mix of municipal water and ejido water. An ejido is an established group that works with recognized community land — ejidos have their own resource use designations.

It is also increasingly common in costal communities to use ocean water that has been converted into drinking water. Tres Santos has plans to build a desalination plant that will be complete by the end of 2016 — the same time the development company plans to stop using municipal water, according to its website.

The Tres Santos development is divided into three categories: hillside, beach and town farm. (Photo courtesy of Tres Santos.)
The Tres Santos development is divided into three categories: hillside, beach and town farm. The CSU Center lies next to town farm. Tres Santos’ plan is in early stages of development. (Photo courtesy of Tres Santos.)

Both Tres Santos and the CSU Center currently use municipal water, but management from each has said the water is not used in a way that is detrimental to others using the system.

“There’s a holding tank at the end of the road that accepts water during off times, so it’s just filling water when it’s not needed throughout the municipal system,” Campbell said about the University property.

Ejido water is used for landscaping and agricultural needs, Campbell said.

OOMSAPAS, the water and waste authority for La Paz, the municipality in which Todos Santos in located, agreed to supply the Tres Santos development with “23,000 gallons per day of potable water and the corresponding sewage water services,” according to a page on the Tres Santos website describing its water use. It also states that OOMSAPAS “confirmed the availability of this volume of potable water.” In the Municipality of La Paz, the water system serves 2,400 connection points, and the development’s water use “represents approximately 72.”

However, activists contest the legality of this water use.

In a Nov. 17 video released by BajaSur TV, Héctor García González, the general director of OOMSAPAS, said that while Tres Santos paid to be connected to water, the development was not paying for water consumption.

“We have found an irregularity in that their two-inch pipe has no contract,” González said in the video. “We need to review their monthly consumption to figure out the volume of water usage they will be billed.”

Truth Santos, an anti-Tres Santos group, also released a “Geo-hydrological synopsis of the Todos Santos Aquifer” they say was commissioned by Tres Santos in 2012. The documents, obtained by a Colorado Open Records Request, state that “the availability of the Todos Santos Aquifer is negative, it has a deficit (over-exploitation) of 151,000 m3,” and that “based on the above, the regulatory and administrative authority for the vital fluid (the National Water Commission) does not grant new concessions by direct assignment.”

But from what she has seen during CSU’s interactions with MIRA, Campbell is confident Tres Santos is operating legally.

“We’ve seen their permits — we know that it’s legal,” Campbell said.

Collegian News Editor Ellie Mulder can be reached at news@collegian.com or via Twitter @lemarie.