Water Battle Erupts Between Mexico and U.S.

Farmers clash with members of the Mexican National Guard. Reuters

Since 1944, the United States and Mexico have shared water across their border, with the U.S. sending water south from the Colorado River, and Mexico moving water northward from the state of Chihuahua. But climate disruption has caused warmer temperatures and longer droughts. And with the intensity of the drought in Chihuahua this year, Mexico is far behind on its water shipments to the U.S., and now has to send more than 50 percent of its water payment in only a few weeks. Since February, this has meant that in order for the Mexican government to send water to the U.S., it has had to cut off all water to the Mexican farmers in Chihuahua.

In response, in order to survive, farmers in Chihuahua have protested their governments’ policy. They’ve burned buildings, blocked roads, and taken government officials hostage. On September 8, a few thousand farmers stormed the National Guard post at the La Boquilla Dam, capturing soldiers and occupying the dam that holds what they see as their water. One protester was killed and dozens injured, but nearly two weeks later, they are still holding the dam.

Most of these farmers are small landowners or renters, working a few dozen acres of land to produce pecans, alfalfa, corn and other crops for the market. And now they are being squeezed from two sides. First by the marketplace, which requires them to produce their commodity at the lowest possible cost, in competition with large, heavily subsidized U.S. farms. But now they are being squeezed by dwindling natural resources, which threatens their entire future as small farmers.

While Mexican and U.S. politicians wrangle over the details of how to shift the water without creating a larger dispute, this dam takeover provides a glimpse of the sorts of conflicts that may start to become increasingly common as global warming intensifies.

As the disruption from climate change continues to get worse, governments are likely to go to even further extremes to protect the scarce resources corporations need to continue making profits. The question is, for the billions of people around the world impacted by this disruption, what will we do. On a small scale, perhaps these Mexican small farmers are an example of the kinds of struggles that will be necessary to defend ourselves against the ravages of this system, and ultimately to get rid of it once and for all.