An Aquatic Paradise in Mexico, Pushed to the Edge of Extinction

2/22/2017 New York Times

xochimilcoXOCHIMILCO, Mexico — With their gray-green waters and blue herons, the canals and island farms of Xochimilco in southern Mexico City are all that remain of the extensive network of shimmering waterways that so awed Spanish invaders when they arrived here 500 years ago.

But the fragility of this remnant of pre-Columbian life was revealed last month, when a 20-feet-deep hole opened in the canal bed, draining water and alarming hundreds of tour boat operators and farmers who depend on the waterways for a living.

The hole intensified a simmering conflict over nearby wells, which suck water from Xochimilco’s soil and pump it to other parts of Mexico City. It also revived worries about a process of decline, caused by pollution, urban encroachment and subsidence, that residents and experts fear may destroy the canals in a matter of years.

“This is a warning,” said Sergio Raúl Rodríguez Elizarrarás, a geologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “We are driving the canals towards their extinction.”

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