After 25 Years of Inertia, Major Improvements to Water Quality Standards in Mexico

Río Secreto, Playa del Carmen. PHOTO: Centinelas del Agua A.C.

ELAW is pleased to announce that the Mexican Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) has approved long overdue updates to the standards that govern wastewater discharge in Mexico. Next, the updates go to the National Commission on Regulatory Improvement for final approval. This is the first update to the NOM-001 standards since 1996.
“Civil society has pushed for these changes for a decade,” says ELAW Attorney Alejandra Serrano. “This major improvement will protect human health and quality of life, and key ecosystems, especially coral reefs. Congratulations to partners at Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA) and other civil society groups for this big win!”
The 1996 standard allowed pollution and temperatures far beyond healthy levels for Mexico’s water bodies. Polluters often complied with these obsolete parameters, causing serious problems. Experts estimate that 70% of Mexico’s surface waters are contaminated or heavily polluted. SEMARNAT has signaled that this is a priority issue for Mexico because water pollution violates the human right to clean water and sanitation.
The World Health Organization estimates that some 842,000 people die each year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water or insufficient sanitation, and that 60% of global infant mortality is due to related infectious and parasitic diseases from water.
The new standards will tighten temperature and pollutant limits for wastewater discharged into water bodies to protect rivers, lakes, aquifers, cenotes, and lagoons. Wastewater treatment standards will also be improved, to protect human health and decrease the demand on aquifers for activities like cleaning and irrigation.
“The update of the Mexican Water Quality Standards is consistent with the urgency to rehabilitate our water bodies, and thus contribute progressively to a healthier environment for present and future generations,” says CEMDA’s Anaid Velasco. “ELAW’s expertise was fundamental in strengthening our input while participating in the update of the regulation.”
For more information, please see:
CEMDA. September 1, 2021
Civil society celebrates the approval of NOM-001-SEMARNAT-2021 that regulates wastewater discharge
Gobierno de México. August 29, 2021
SEMARNAT Updates NOM-001 Wastewater Discharge Standards After 25 Years of Paralysis

Bern Johnson
Executive Director
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide