Last piece connecting Mexico to its pre-Hispanic past

Xochimilco is one of the 16 boroughs that exists within Mexico City. The borough is centered on the formerly independent city of Xochimilco, which was established on what was the southern shore of Lake Xochimilco in the pre-Hispanic period. This area is known for its canals, which are left from what was an extensive lake and canal system that connected most of the settlements of the Valley of Mexico. Today, the canals of Xochimilco are all that remains from this extensive network that awed the Spanish invaders when they first arrived 500 years ago.

Unfortunately the fragility of this area is extreme and on the verge of being lost forever. Last January a 20 foot deep hole opened in the canal bed, rapidly draining the water and alarming hundreds of farmers and tour boat owners who depend on this waterway for living. The hole also intensified nearby wells which suck water from Xochimilco in order to pump it into other parts of Mexico City. Pollution, urban encroachment and subsidence are slowly driving these canals towards extinction.

In the 1960’s the slow collapse of the city center caused officials to switch from extraction of water in the city center to extraction in Xochimilco — the exploitation of aquifers that has been occurring over the last 50 years has driven government officials to replenish these waterways from a nearby sewage treatment plant.Even though this area is considered part of the UNESCO’s world heritage program, it has been neglected by city authorities that have allowed urbanization to continue. There are no longer any concrete plans for the preservation of this space and any funds that have been given to the cause have gotten lost along the way.

Today, the illegal housing development along these canals contribute to the pollution by dumping raw sewage into the canal systems — affecting fish and crops. The fish here are no longer used for consumption due to the heavy metals that they carry and most farmers have been forced to switch from growing food to flowers. Despite the ban on construction on these floating islands — more and more of them are being settled. Small scale farming has become less important as the demand for space grows.

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