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Water, water… and not a drop to waste

30 March 2013

water_fight

One hates to see traditions die, especially when they were for so long seen as harmless fun… like the neighborhood water wars that used to break out every Holy Saturday in Mexico City. With water shortages no joke, the traditional water fight can earn you up to 36 hours in the slammer for wasting resources, or a fine of 40 days minimum wage. 15 adults and two minors were arrested today for… having some fun, alas…

Meanwhile in Chihuahua, water fights are deadly serious:

Over the past decade, Mexican Mennonites have been changing their style — not how they dress or interact socially but their traditional farming patterns. Once forbidden as a transgression of God’s natural laws, irrigated agriculture backed by increasingly deep wells and the most advanced farming machinery has become the norm. Mennonite farmers are meeting — and taking advantage of — the challenges of climate change and intensifying drought cycles by embracing the most unsustainable practices of capital-intensive, resource-depleting agribusiness.

With large families — typically six or more children — Mennonites in Chihuahua routinely outgrow their original colonies, obligating them to establish new farming colonies. Leaving the original colonies, they are converting barren rangeland and desert expanses into agribusiness plantations by tapping groundwater reserves with new wells descending to unprecedented depths.

[…]

… As the Mennonite colonies have expanded to previously uncultivated areas of the state, the proliferation of hundreds of deep wells for irrigation is rapidly depleting aquifers and basins as neighboring farmers and ranchers see the yields from their shallower wells dramatically diminish.[…]

One result has been escalating demands by small farmers and members of ejidos (government granted land), along with environmental organizations, that the federal and state governments halt and reverse the proliferation of deep wells, leading to heated and sometimes violent incidents. The most tragic and ominous was the Oct. 21 assassination of a leader of the small farmers’ organization El Barzón and his wife. They had been organizing against the illegal and unsustainable pumping of groundwater by a Canadian mining company and new agribusiness operations in central Chihuahua. […]

Several months previously, on July 2, the first shots of the new water war in Chihuahua were fired by rogue police in an unsuccessful attempt to end the mobilization of more than 300 small farmers who had gathered to prevent the drilling by Mennonite farmers of yet another illegal well south of Flores Magón. Wielding semi-automatic weapons, the police barged into the gathering of unarmed farmers and forcibly attempted to confiscate the camera of a reporter/photographer — me — who was chronicling the Barzón-organized action.

When the farmers pushed closer to prevent the police from successfully seizing my camera, the uniformed gunmen began firing up in the air and into the ground — a confrontation that is now regarded as the first skirmish in the new water wars.

At a late-night meeting in the Palacio de Gobierno in Chihuahua City, top state and federal officials met with the frightened and indignant farmers and agreed to form a collaborative working group to identity and shut down illegal wells in that water basin. In response, a few days later a quickly organized small group of Mennonite farmers declared that they would protect their wells and their livelihoods, taking up arms if necessary despite their religiously professed pacifism.

“Several months previously, on July 2, the first shots of the new water war in Chihuahua were fired by rogue police in an unsuccessful attempt to end the mobilization of more than 300 small farmers who had gathered to prevent the drilling by Mennonite farmers of yet another illegal well south of Flores Magón. Wielding semi-automatic weapons, the police barged into the gathering of unarmed farmers and forcibly attempted to confiscate the camera of a reporter/photographer — me — who was chronicling the Barzón-organized action. When the farmers pushed closer to prevent the police from successfully seizing my camera, the uniformed gunmen began firing up in the air and into the ground — a confrontation that is now regarded as the first skirmish in the new water wars. At a late-night meeting in the Palacio de Gobierno in Chihuahua City, top state and federal officials met with the frightened and indignant farmers and agreed to form a collaborative working group to identity and shut down illegal wells in that water basin. In response, a few days later a quickly organized small group of Mennonite farmers declared that they would protect their wells and their livelihoods, taking up arms if necessary despite their religiously professed pacifism.”

(Full story by Tom Barry at Desert Exposure)

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