Search for “tap water in Mexico” and you will find 100 travel forums and articles warning about drinking tap water, ice in restaurants, brushing your teeth in tap water and more. But what is the truth? Is the Mexican tap water really that bad?
In this article we will explore where the tap water in major Mexican cities comes from, whether it’s drinkable and what you can do to be safe if you live in or are traveling to Mexico. We also provide recommendations on the best water filters for Mexico.
History of tap water in Mexico
During the 1960s to 1980s Mexico invested heavily in infrastructure to ensure that everyone living in the cities would have access to clean tap water. As homes got connected to the new pipes they therefore trusted that the water coming out of the taps was clean and healthy. This all changed with the big earthquake in Mexico City 1985 as pipes broke throughout the city with major leakage and contamination of the tap water as a consequence. Hundreds of thousands got sick and the government issued a boil warning. Ever since most households boiles the drinking water and over time switched to bottled water when they could afford it. This has resulted in Mexico having the highest per capita bottled water consumption in the world.
Where does tap water in Mexico comes from ?
In 2006, 63% of the Mexican water was extracted from surface water, such as rivers or lakes. The remaining 37% came from aquifers. In urban areas 97% of the population is estimated to have access to improved water supply.
In the south of Mexico the water from aquifers is a particular challenge as the limestone is very porous and doesn’t provide much filtering. Therefore rainwater can be contaminated with whatever is found on the ground.
Where does Mexico city tap water come from?
The total population of Greater Mexico City is about 22 million, all of whom need safe access to water. The Mexico City Metropolitan Area’s water supply is currently calculated to be around 82 m³/s. The main sources of water (and their approximate contributions to total water supply) are:
- Abstraction of groundwater (73%)
- Cutzamala system (18%)
- Lerma system (6%)
- Rivers and springs (3%)
The Cutzamala system is one of the largest water supply systems in the world, in terms of both the total quantity of water supplied (about 485 million cubic meters/yr) and in terms of the 1100 meters (3600 feet) difference in elevation that has to be overcome.
The pumping required to lift water 1100 meters from the lowest storage point to the system’s highest point (from where gravity flow takes over) consumes a significant amount of energy, variously estimated at between 1.3 and 1.8 terawatt hours a year, equivalent to about 0.6% of Mexico’s total energy consumption, and representing a cost of about 65 million dollars/yr. This amount of electricity is claimed to be roughly equivalent to the annual energy consumption of the metropolitan area of Puebla (population 2.7 million).
Read the full story of where Mexico City tap water comes from in the Guardian.
What do Mexicans say about the tap water?
Most Mexicans don’t trust two water and especially not in Mexico City or other parts of the south. If they can afford they therefore only drink bottled water while others boil the water for drinking and cooking.
In the south, with its older systems and huge population, especially Mexico City, water does not run all day. People then use roof-installed cisterns or tank to bridge that time when the tap water is off. The issue with this is that the tank is often open, meaning it does get dirty and needs cleaning regularly. Not many people do that. “Would you climb your roof once a week to clean out the water tank? There, tap water is only good for drinking after being boiled.” said one person we interviewed.
But there are also people that have always consumed tap water and never gotten sick. Especially in the north.
“I’d like to say that water in Mexico is safe to drink, but it tastes awful for the high amount of chlorine they put in it, so I use a charcoal filter and the water tastes very good and is cheaper than any bottled water you may buy.”
What is the water treatment like in Mexico?
Most major cities have water treatment plants that live up to international standards (WHO, EU and EPA). This means that the water coming out of the water plant into the pipe distribution network is generally drinkable in most of Mexico. The issue however is potential contamination on the way to the faucet and especially the pipes and water tanks of old buildings.
Can you drink the tap water in Mexico?
First of all, the answer depends on where in Mexico. Secondly it depends on what risk you’re willing to take.
As long as the water comes off a closed system and has a smell like chlorine to it, like most U.S. tap water has, you are probably not getting sick from it short term.
Mexico City’s health secretary said 95 percent of the capital’s drinking water is clean, based on daily checks of chlorination at various treatment plants.
But experts note that while Mexico City water leaves the plant in drinkable form, it travels through old underground pipes and dirty rooftop water tanks to the consumer.
The city’s underground pipes, half of which are at least 60 years old, fail at an alarming rate. It could take at least 50 years, and hundreds of millions of dollars, to replace all the old, ruptured pipes, according to one official estimate. Read more about Mexico water infrastructure.
In many ways sending trucks all over the sprawling capital is a more efficient system than the city’s pipes, which are so prone to breaks and leaks that nearly 40 percent of the drinking water running through them is just wasted, according to a government study in 2010.
In 2014 a new law changed things in Mexico City, as it mandates that restaurants install filters to provide customers with safe water.
Approximately 65,000 restaurants were mandated to install filters in 2015. Unfortunately Mexicans nor tourists seem to trust that the water provided is drinkable.
While doing the research for this article we found people in every major Mexican city that stated that they’ve been drinking it for tens of years without ever getting sick. Whether this is because the tap water is clean or they’ve built up a resistance to possible contaminants including bacteria is unknown.
However, we will answer the question for other major cities whereas you can judge yourself what the risk is.
The best tap water in other parts of Mexico
According to recent research the best tap water comes from
- The city of León came top, followed by Saltillo, Monterrey, Mexicali, Aguascalientes, Cancún and Tijuana.
- Of the top six, three (Saltillo, Aguascalientes and Cancún) are managed by private operators, while León, Mexicali and Tijuana are public water systems.
- In these cities the tap water is generally safe to drink throughput the city
The worst tap water in Mexico
The bottom-ranking cities include several in the State of Mexico, as well as others in the south and southeast of the country. Here unfiltered tap water should be avoided.
Read the full report on tap water quality in Mexico.
What is the best water filter for Mexico?
To be on the safe side it’s always a good idea to use a high quality water filter in Mexico. The type of filter needed depends on the source of the water. For all public tap water a quality carbon block faucet filter is typically the most practical and affordable. These will remove all common contaminants (lead, nitrates, microplastics, etc) and improve taste with minimum effort.
For households with wells or water tanks on the roof it’s advisable to use a filter that combines activated carbon and a filter that will kill pathogens (bacteria and viruses). The options for this are UV (Ultra Violet) filters, UF (Ultrafiltration), RO (Reverse Osmosis) or distillation. The unfortunate thing about RO and distillation in particular is that they also remove all the healthy minerals.
Read more about how water filters work and why you might need one.
Read more about the best water filters.
Is bottled water safe in Mexico?
According to a study from Inter-American Development Bank, Mexico has the world’s highest per capita consumption of bottled water, with Mexicans using on average about 127 gallons (480 litres) of bottled water per person in 2011. At home it’s mostly from 5-gallon (20-liter) jugs delivered by trucks as well as all other kinds of bottles.
Mexico’s bottle water habit is one that comes with two problems: It’s expensive and destroys the environment.
But should you really trust a Mexican water bottling company any better than a Mexican municipal water board? Do the operators running the bottling machine wash their hands? Or are they spitting into the bottles? Besides, reverse osmosis produced water is aggressive, tastes poorly and will leach out all sorts of chemicals from the bottles probably causing far greater health issues than a few bacteria would.
When getting sick in Mexico from eating or drinking, it’s actually almost never the water. It’s much more likely that it’s raw food handled by filthy servers and cooks, vegetables irrigated with grey or sewage water (against the law but who is checking?) spoiled and re-heated stuff and undercooked meat.
Can you drink beverages with ice in Mexico?
Yes, these days every single reputable restaurant and most of the not so reputable restaurants use filtered water to make ice cubes. Therefore you generally don’t have to worry about the ice in your drink, it’s been made to ensure you don’t get sick. Plus, it’s hot here, nobody wants a lukewarm cocktail.
- If you live in Mexico in a building without a water tank with public tap water that tastes / smells of chlorine then the tap water is most likely safe to drink.
- To be on the safe side use an affordable high quality water filter for Mexico such as TAPP 2
- Visit the website for your local water provider to read more about the quality of the water or send your water to a local water lab if you want to find out more.
- Avoid bottled water if you can including the jugs. Plastic bottles are bad for the environment and not necessarily healthier or safer than tap water.