Residents and visitors to Playa La Ropa in Zihuatanejo this past week have been witness to the incredible incompetence of the local water company, most inappropriately named "CAPAZ" (which in Spanish means "capable"). Last Friday the water treatment plant located in the coconut grove at La Ropa experienced serious equipment failure when pumps failed and untreated sewage water began overflowing and draining into the mangrove estuary (lagoon). The polluted water promptly caused a massive fish kill in the lagoon before eventually breaching the sand bar and flowing into the bay.
Residents and at least one local environmental NGO have threatened lawsuits against the paramunicipal company for the damage to the ecology of the lagoon and the bay as well as to Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa's tourist industry, since more tourists than ever are vowing not to return as a direct result of the increased pollution the bay has been experiencing in recent years.
Their complaints are founded not only on this accident, but also due to the fact that untreated sewage is also being clandestinely discharged by the water treatment plant "El Deportivo I y II" into La Boquita Canal, and explains why the pluvial canal is still flowing copiously even though it hasn't rained here since November 15th. From hillside restaurants and lodgings as well as other elevated vantage points around the bay the effects of this discharge are apparent as they affect La Playa Principal and Playa La Madera. Recent low tides that accompanied the new moon also made apparent the pollution entering the bay from the lagoon Las Salinas. The smell alone told the story to the thousands of daily visitors to the pier, but it wasn't the only evidence.
Not only have the authorities at CAPAZ let us down, but so have the local representatives of PROFEPA, the federal environmental watchdog authority entrusted with prosecuting polluters, who attempted to exonerate themselves of any responsibility by claiming that the Comisión Federal de Agua has jurisdiction, not them, regardless of the fact that in their own published environmental laws they consider the discharge of residual waters a crime as defined in the the following excerpt from their website:
“Artículo 416.-Se impondrá pena de uno a nueve años de prisión y de trescientos a tres mil días multa, al que ilícitamente descargue, deposite, o infiltre, lo autorice u ordene, aguas residuales, líquidos químicos o bioquímicos, desechos o contaminantes en los suelos, subsuelos, aguas marinas, ríos, cuencas, vasos o demás depósitos o corrientes de agua de competencia federal, que cause un riesgo de daño o dañe a los recursos naturales, a la flora, a la fauna, a la calidad del agua, a los ecosistemas o al ambiente. Cuando se trate de aguas que se encuentren depositadas, fluyan en o hacia una área natural protegida, la prisión se elevará hasta tres años más y la pena económica hasta mil días multa.”
Most unfortunately, the people entrusted with protecting our environment, including SEMARNAT (of which PROFEPA is supposedly its legal enforcement branch), have been the same people whose actions (or inactions) have permitted the pollution problem in our bay to steadily get worse instead of assuming their proper responsibilities. SEMARNAT is responsible for signing off on the environmental impact studies and authorizing such disastrous local developments as the jetty at Puerto Mio, the development of Cerro del Vigía, and the ecocide of Playa Almacén (a beach that Puerto Mio caused to simply disappear), among others.
Until incompetent and corrupt public officials are jailed for their actions that consistently negatively impact the community and its main economic activity (tourism), such disasters will inevitably continue repeating themselves. Local authorities have continued to lie to the public and use not only the power of their offices but also public resources for purposes other than what they are intended for, and the current bay pollution problem is just one of the consequences we are forced to endure.