AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Mexico City's 9 million residents have been without running water for more than a week. Water trucks have crisscrossed the metropolis trying to satisfy needs by filling water tanks, tubs and buckets. The city shut the system down for critical maintenance. But as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, the plumbing failed.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: It's been a long and anxious week for many in Mexico City. Water officials originally said the so-called great water cutoff would last just a few days. But it's been more than a week now. The latest announcement put off full restoration until this weekend.
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KAHN: Jose Luis Batista Ibarra opens the lid on the giant cistern under the parking garage of the seven-story apartment building he manages in Mexico City's Condesa neighborhood. It's one of the areas that has had no water coming through the pipes for more than a week.
JOSE LUIS BATISTA IBARRA: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "Everyone is taking a shower one day, then they won't the next. They aren't washing their dishes either. We're just using disposable plates and stuff," he says. In Mexico City, many buildings, homes and businesses have underground or rooftop storage tanks and had plenty of notice to store up on water. And to help cut down on water usage, officials canceled classes for three days last week.
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KAHN: But as classes resume this week, some parents weren't too thrilled about sending their kids back to school while the water was still off.
CARLOS BAL: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Outside the Montes do Oca elementary school near downtown, parents, like Carlos Bal, says he's worried about students' basic necessities being met. Eleven-year-old Santiago Maceda Mojica was more direct.
SANTIAGO MACEDA MOJICA: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: The sixth-grader says, "the teachers told us everything would be fine as long as we didn't go to the bathroom too much." City officials say major facilities, including schools and hospitals, are getting daily trucked-in water deliveries - as well as spots in hundreds of neighborhoods throughout the city.
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER POURING)
KAHN: In the Santa Maria la Ribera neighborhood, residents drag out buckets, water bottles, even large trash cans to fill up at one of the roving water trucks. Chantal Pichardo and her 9-year-old daughter Odalis live in a poor area where homes don't have cisterns or storage tanks. She says she's used to not having water every day.
CHANTAL PICHARDO: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "Now everyone else in the city knows how the rest of us feel," she says. Officials say the repairs were necessary to ensure a more reliable water supply. Among the repairs needed was installation of a special 185-ton pipe to establish a permanent backup supply line. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned, and the pipe failed. In the end, crews restored the original piping. But officials insist the $26 million maintenance work was worth it. The National Water Commission did not return multiple calls from NPR for comment.
ELENA BURNS: This is an unsustainable system.
KAHN: Elena Burns is a water rights advocate. She says the whole shut-off has been a debacle.
BURNS: This exposes the weaknesses of a system that has no citizen oversight and no citizen participation.
KAHN: Burns says the commission is corrupt, mismanaged and costing citizens too much money.
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KAHN: Resident Chantal Pichardo didn't know about the faulty repairs. She was just glad to have filled up from the city's traveling water truck.
PICHARDO: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: She says she's relieved and just hopes this water will last through to the weekend when officials say, for sure this time, the water will be back on full board. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.
(SOUNDBITE OF EL-P'S "TIME WON'T TELL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.