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MEXICO CITY — It turns out a partial solution to this unwieldy megacity’s vexing water problem may have been under residents’ feet — albeit a long way down — all along.

Mexico City government officials Monday announced the discovery of an aquifer more than a mile beneath the earth’s surface that could provide enough water for at least some of the metropolitan area’s 20 million residents.

Officials say the aquifer could reduce the city’s dependence on water pumped from outlying areas and reduce the strain on the region’s shallower aquifers — the over-pumping of which is causing the city to sink precipitously, in some cases more than a foot each year.

The city’s water department drilled an exploratory well recently in the eastern borough of Iztapalapa, a densely-packed urban zone where the quality of water — much of which is drawn from shallower depths — is poor enough to be the punch line for many local jokes.

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The news of a new water source was received with excitement in a city where experts have been predicting that demand for water could eventually outstrip supply.

During a severe drought in 2009, some poorer neighborhoods were denied water service or subject to severe rationing. The city government hauled water into some areas by truck.

The director of the city water system, Ramon Aguirre, said he expected the city to initially drill five wells to draw water from the aquifer, a project that could cost about $40 million.

Federico Mooser, a veteran geologist who helped the city with its exploratory well in Iztapalapa, emphasized in a phone interview Monday that the aquifer would not solve Mexico City’s water problem.

“This is a lucky finding of medium importance,” he said.

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