Mexico City residents battle police over water

By Mark Stevenson

MEXICO CITY (AP) - A confrontation between 1,500 police and residents of a village on Mexico City's western outskirts left more than 100 police injured in a battle over a water spring. Three police remained in intensive care Thursday, the city government said, and five people were under arrest.

It was the latest in a series of clashes over increasingly scarce water in the city of 9 million people, which must draw much of its supply from surrounding states.

The city grew so fast between the 1940s and the 1990s that once-independent villages like San Bartolo Ameyalco were swallowed up by the sprawl.

The centuries-old village has a natural water spring which it takes a great deal of pride in.

But Mexico City officials wanted to extend the municipal water system into the village, purportedly to supply underserved areas there.

But many residents suspect the city wants take their spring water to supply the explosive growth of apartment blocks, offices and shopping centers that have sprouted in the upscale developments nearby.

Residents had managed to block the city's plan for a long time.

"This community has been deeply linked to water ever since it began," community activists wrote in a description of their town, whose name, Ameyalco, means "place where water springs forth" in the Nahuatl Indian language.

When police moved in to protect city workers opening trenches Wednesday, they were blocked by barricades and rock-throwing residents.

"This water project has been delayed for more than 18 years," the city's police department said in a statement, suggesting that people who make money selling truckloads of water to inhabitants are behind the opposition.

"We think that the tank truck operators are involved. Tankers from this area don't want this project to go forward," borough president Leonel Luna told a news conference Thursday.

City officials say they are trying to bring water into the area for 20,000 people who don't have service, not take it out. They said pipes for the project had been successfully laid by early Thursday and that city workers were being withdrawn.

But officials' promises are suspect because of the uncontrolled growth they've allowed in the hills nearby.

Developers were allowed to create a huge satellite city known as Santa Fe in the hills, despite the fact that adequate road, mass transit and water lines did not exist.

Many Mexico City residents have to rely on tank truck deliveries to get water, and every few months water supplies run out for entire neighborhoods; residents often block roadways to pressure authorities into solving the problems.

In 2004, Mazahua Indians whose ancestral lands lie west of Mexico City blockaded a water treatment plant, a move that temporarily threatened to interrupt city water supplies. The Mazahuas were angry that much of the city's water is extracted from their lands, but they see little benefit from it.