updated 2/1/2009 7:26:14 PM ET 2009-02-02T00:26:14

Mexico City shut down a main water pipeline under a new conservation program, cutting service to more than 2 million residents Sunday after some reservoirs dropped to their lowest levels in 16 years.

The Mexico City government and the National Water Commission will interrupt service for three days every month until May, when the rainy season begins.

Mexico City's government says the plan will affect everyone from those living in million-dollar mansions to cement hovels. Another 13 cities in the metro area of 20 million also will see service reduced, the National Water Commission said.

To prepare for the three-day shutdown, which ends Tuesday, residents filled underground cisterns, saved water in buckets to bathe and were flushing toilets and doing the wash only when necessary.

Not happy about shutdown
Saleswoman Amanda Sanchez, 46, was not happy about having her taps shut off.

"It's hard, especially for working mothers like me, because I use more water on the weekends," she said.

Even before this weekend, some residents have had virtually no running water because of the poor condition of their pipes.

City water pipes are so leaky, experts estimate 40 percent of drinking water is lost, and nearly all Mexico City's abundant rainfall simply flows into sewage drains.

The shut-off also will allow authorities to make much-needed repairs to the pipelines.

Chemist Jesus Anzurez, 32, who had to save water in buckets, said the action was too drastic and could affect children if their parents had not prepared.

"They should educate people so they don't waste water, such as promoting the use of water-saving shower heads, instead of cutting off service," he said.

Officials say they have no choice: An unusually dry rainy season last year left the city's Cutzamala water system, comprising seven reservoirs, at 63 percent capacity compared to 85 percent in previous years, according to a Mexico City government news release. The system supplies 25 percent of the metropolitan area's water.

Built on a lake bed, Mexico City has paved over its rivers as its growth has boomed over the past few decades.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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