Is It Safe to Drink the Water in Mexico?

Years ago, the rule throughout Mexico was; don’t drink the water.

We moved to Puerto Vallarta (known as Vallarta or PV by the locals), Mexico in 1997 and one of the selling features of our beautiful new villa was an in-house water purification system. It had dual cartridges, one charcoal, the other chemically treated paper, and dual ultra violet lamps for additional treatment. We also had filtration units below the kitchen sink as well as in the refrigerator. Even with the household treatment, purification, and filtration systems, we were told to thoroughly rinse all vegetables and fruit in water treated with Microdyn, a chemical used for killing bacteria, etc. For additional protection, we were instructed to take three day pills every six months in order to prevent becoming ill from amoeba or bacteria. With all the aforementioned filtration, purification, and medication, we still used bottled water to brush our teeth and were suspect of ice cubes! Of course, when dining in restaurants, we would have only bottled drinks and would rely on our semi-annual drug treatment to protect us from getting “Montezuma´s Revenge”!

Servicos de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado (SEAPAL) is the company that started building waste water treatment plants for Puerto Vallarta in 1977 and has since built five modern water treatment and purification plants. SEAPAL is responsible for all water drainage systems and sewerage in the Greater Puerto Vallarta.  The response of SEAPAL, with the accelerated growth of Puerto Vallarta and the demand of its population, places it as one of the most efficient agencies of the Potable Water, Drainage and Sewage Service in Mexico, having obtained for 26 consecutive years the recognition and certification to the Sanitary Quality of Drinking Water, to the administration, operation and improvement of the Services provided to the greater Puerto Vallarta Area. An estimated 72.5 percent of the water produced is extracted from wells, while 27.5 percent comes from surface sources. Ninety-eight percent of the customers are metered and the service is provided with good quality and quantity. SEAPAL has invested $3.6 million USD between 2013 and 2015, including customer meters and District Metering Areas (DMAs), to detect and control for leakages.

The Comisión Nacional del Agua (CONAGUA) borrowed $100 million US Dollars from The World Bank in 2010 for the Mexico Water Utilities Efficiency Improvement Project (PROME). Under this Project, SEAPAL has been able to reduce water production while serving a customer base that grew by 35 percent over the last 10 years. While on average, each municipality throughout Mexico implemented 5 improvement actions over the course of a 6-year modernization project, the top 15 percent of utilities (in terms of numbers of actions implemented) implemented 15 actions each, with one municipality (Puerto Vallarta) alone implementing 31 improvement actions. In fact, SEAPAL is ranked #1 in Mexico and considered to be the most efficient in the nation for providing drinking water, sewage, and drainage systems.

SEAPAL has installed miles of new piping water distribution systems and has rebuilt most of the old piping systems as they failed due to age. SEAPAL has also built very efficient water runoff drainage systems that carry the heavy rainfall water under parts of the downtown area, directly to the Banderas Bay, thus minimizing the downtown flooding that used to occur during every heavy summer rainfall. These new drainage systems have also prevented serious erosion of the beaches along the Malecon.

Because the water is so clean in PV, during the past twenty years, we have become more and more lax when it comes to maintaining our in-house purification system. In fact, we haven’t changed the ultraviolet lamps for more than fifteen years and the charcoal/paper cartridges for two years; however we did rinse the paper filter cartridge less than a year ago. The sale of Microdyn in Vallarta has probably dropped to almost zero, since all fruit, vegetables, etc. are purchased in large, modern, and clean supermarkets, comparable to Safeway and Kroger in the US. The bottled water truck that used to pass our villa on a daily basis, ringing its bell, hasn’t been seen for almost twenty years.

Finally, it should also be known that not only is the water safe directly from the tap but as a last precaution, most of the newer hotels and condominium buildings have in-house purification systems just in case a problem might develop in the piping system between the SEAPAL pumping station and the hotel or condominium.

Twenty years ago, the local grocery stores were filthy, non-air-conditioned, and with flies everywhere as one might expect in Mexico. The situation was dramatically changed when Sam´s Club and Wal-Mart moved to PV fifteen years ago. In order to compete and survive, all new grocery stores had to be large, clean, air-conditioned, ultra modern, with large parking lots (twenty two years ago there were very few cars buzzing around town so the grocery stores didn´t even consider parking as a necessity!). The old neighborhood Mom & Pop stores either remodeled or closed the doors. Today we have at least three Wal-Mart stores, three Soriana stores, a large Sam’s Club, a mega large Costco, a huge brand new La Comer, and a modernized Mega supermarket. These are just a few of the local PV area supermarkets; if you spread out to Nuevo Vallarta, Bucerias, and north toward Punta Mita, where the Banderas Bay meets the Pacific Ocean, you´ll find many more of these huge new modern mega-markets, shopping centers and high end fashion malls that have opened during the past five years. If you´re still a little suspect of the tap water, these stores carry every kind of bottled water imaginable. They have mineral water, spring water, every flavor and color under the rainbow water….just like in the US and Canada. For those of you that don´t mind creating tons more of plastic to be recycled, spending a few dollars more to drink water with a label on it, and don´t mind hauling heavy loads of water into your residence, they´ve got the beverage of your choice….and it´s just as clean and as thirst quenching as the water from the tap!

Twenty years ago, only a handful of restaurants were air-conditioned and their kitchens were all totally unregulated as was their source of foods. Today, they are all inspected on a regular basis and if they don’t meet the strict standards, they are red tagged, locked up, and sometimes put out of business. The last thing the restaurateurs can afford is to have tourists return home sick. During the twenty two years we’ve lived here, we’ve met many visitors, mainly in the fine restaurants, nightclubs, or on the golf course. Only a handful of them complained of stomach pains or headaches and in every case, they admitted that their problems were brought on by an over-consumption of margaritas or cervezas during the previous evening; and it wasn’t the cubed or crushed ice! There are hundreds of fine restaurants in Vallarta offering every type of cuisine imaginable and there should be no fear of food poisoning in any of them, although they all do offer bottled water.

Today, the risk of becoming ill in Vallarta from drinking the water, eating in restaurants, or shopping at the local supermarket is about the same as in Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles. Of course the corner taco stand could be suspect and water taken from some village in the hills twenty miles out of PV could create problems, however, the thought of “don’t drink the water” never occurs to us anymore in Vallarta.