Vote for Climate Justice!

Updated: Jan 28

By Samira Mehta

The Isla Urbana at Penn team in front of the system we funded at CAM 69. (2019)

Long, slimy, black bugs,—dozens—swam across the water’s surface in a white, plastic bucket. A woman bent over it and dropped in a live electrical wire to kill the pests. This Jardines de San Juan, Mexico, resident who had walked along her mountain path to a single public tap jutting from an aging, brick building, could then strain out the bugs—and drink.


I met this woman the summer before my senior year in high school in Dallas. Six of us had joined an Isla Urbana trip to install systems to harvest rainwater. We climbed up mountains outside Mexico City so steep I hardly knew what kept me from falling backwards. Our legs burned. The people here, including kids who should be in school, walked these paths hours a day for water. No pipes and no wells connected them to the aquifer below Mexico City that is being drained faster than rain can replenish, just weekly government water deliveries that did not always come. They’d figured out how to live on 20 liters of water a day, for everything. Just one luxurious U.S. shower, like I was used to in Dallas, consumes 65.

Three years later, I returned, this time with four members of Isla Urbana at Penn, a chapter I co-founded here at my university to provide more systems to harvest rainwater. At El Centro de Atención Múltiple No. 69, a school for special needs children in Quiltepec, Mexico, piping along the roof leads through filters to large storage cisterns for storage. In its first season, the system had brought this school 10,000 liters of clean water. The principal beams when he tells us this school will never have to shut down again because of a lack of running water.