The extraction of water from the Luis L. León dam, known as “El Granero”, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, has provoked protests from local farmers, who accuse that this action puts the crops and livestock of the neighbouring municipalities at risk.
Grouped in the Association of Irrigation Users of the State of Chihuahua, agricultural producers from the towns of Camargo, Aldama, Ojinaga, Coyame and Manuel Benavides have organized blockades and protests to express their disagreement with the extraction of 75 million cubic meters of El Granero to comply with the International Water Treaty signed between the Governments of Mexico and the United States in 1944.
This agreement established the rights of each country over the waters of the Tijuana, Colorado and Bravo rivers, for which certain guaranteed volumes were assigned to each country. According to the National Water Commission (Conagua), during the five-year period, 2010-2015 Mexico closed with debt, for which it is obliged to deliver the full volumes of that and the current cycle (2015-2020) to the United States no later than October this year.
To that end, state officials from Conagua and the federal delegate in Chihuahua, Juan Carlos Loera, met with representatives of AURECH to negotiate a water extraction agreement. However, farmers have indicated that extraction would lead to the lowering of the El Granero dam, which would mean leaving them without water for the rest of this year’s agricultural cycle.
In an interview, Salvador Alcántar, president of the AURECH, denounced that throughout the history of the agreement between the United States and Mexico, none of the volumes of water to Washington have ever had to be paid in advance. He also mentioned that in recent months the federal authorities have opened the dams in Chihuahua without revealing the destination of the water extracted from those places.
“When the irrigation plans for the 2020 agricultural cycle began to be made, at that moment they began to extract 130 million cubic meters from the El Granero dam. Later, the Venustiano Carranza dam extracted 100 million and, later, the Marte R. Gómez dam extracts 150 million from it. We are talking about a volume of 380 million cubic meters that, when questioning Conagua about where those volumes were and how much water was for the payment of the treaty, we saw that they had only provided 24 million. They are flying around 356 million cubic meters of water. They had to use that volume for something and nobody has come out to give us an answer,” he accused.
Conagua has assured that the decision to increase the extraction volume does not imply a risk to agricultural activities. However, protests have increased in recent days. It all started on June 7, when a contingent of AURECH members blocked the International Bridge between Presidio, Texas, and Ojinaga.
On June 9, the farmers protested in front of the municipal presidency of Ojinaga, where they besieged Juan Carlos Loera in the municipal presidency. There the federal delegate was attacked, while two vehicles where he and other federal officials were travelling were overturned and burned.
???Son imágenes ???de los bloqueos y protestas frente a la presidencia municipal de Ojinaga, Chihuahua, debido a la extracción de agua en la presa “El Granero” por parte de la Comisión Nacional del Agua #Mexico pic.twitter.com/MoA1ZXQJ8U
— Dafne Mora (@Dafne148Mora) June 10, 2020
Regarding the facts, Salvador Alcántar highlighted that many people are upset by the actions that the federal government has taken for the use of water resources in the south-central area of Chihuahua. Likewise, he questioned the negotiating capacity of Juan Carlos Loera, who has been singled out for engaging in discussions with the population, instead of debating the problem.
“Right now people are very sensitive because of the abuse that farmers have felt, from December to date. [Since then] they begin to make proposals to extract 1 billion cubic meters from one of the dams here. If at that time they did not we would have opposed it, right now we would have problems due to the availability of water. It is one outrage after another. […] Every time we have a meeting with personnel capable of making decisions at the national level, something happens. We have the minutes that we have signed to continue on the work tables and they immediately violate them. They have practically betrayed us every time,” he lamented.
Before the escalation of the protests in Ojinaga, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reiterated that the extraction of water is due to the agreement that has existed between Mexico and the United States since 1944. Similarly, he suggested that these demonstrations have a political-electoral interest.
“If we do not comply with that commitment, then there are sanctions where the producers themselves are harmed, because if they close the border or there are tariffs because there is no compliance with an international treaty, it affects us. But since there are elections in Chihuahua, there they are taking advantage of the circumstance,” he said.
In turn, the governor of Chihuahua, Javier Corral, indicated that he will not oppose the decision of the federal authorities to extract water from the Luis L. León dam and deliver it to the United States. However, he promised that he will be aware that this action does not affect the agricultural producers and ranchers of his entity.
On the other hand, Corral pointed out that this conflict arises from the lack of interest of the Government to develop infrastructure in Chihuahua, particularly for the storage and distribution of water in that region.
“As Chihuahua is one of the main tributaries through the tributary of the Río Conchos, care has not been taken to strengthen the state in infrastructure, in the lining of ditches, in the improvement of measurement systems, in the modernization of its dams or in Chihuahua puts more than 50% of the treaty quota and then they also want us to continue putting more, due to the mismanagement they have made of international dams and to the errors that Conagua has been dragging for several years,” said the governor.
Salvador Alcántar indicated that AURECH has requested on several occasions to sit directly with the federal authorities, particularly with the Secretary of Foreign Relations, in order to learn about Washington’s request to Mexico for the delivery of water for the 2015-2020 five-year period. In all cases, claims have not received any response.
Given this, the leader of the AURECH warned about the consequences that could follow the continuation of plans to extract water from the El Granero dam.
“We are talking that, at the end of July, with the volume of extraction that they are currently carrying, at that time the dam will practically be lowered. Here the rainy storms begin in mid-July, early August, but those that add up volumes to be stored is in the month of September. Practically the agricultural cycle of the state is going to be under very strong water stress. The consequence is that they are going to bring down one of the dams and, if it does not rain, in a short time this entire region will become what it is, a true desert,” he warned.