The University of Arizona

Aguas Broncas: The Regional Political Ecology of Water Conflict in the Mexico-U.S. Borderlands

Casey Walsh


Since 1992 water scarcity in the Río Bravo/Rio Grande river basin has heightened tensions and conflicts among water users and politicians on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border. This article argues that while this situation has been characterized as an international “water war” stemming from a “water crisis,” it is more accurately described as a series of conflicts between regional, binational and national actors generated by a “crisis of irrigated agriculture.” A close examination of the dynamics of these current water conflicts focused on the delta region of the Rio Bravo/Grande reveals a binational ecological consciousness among the agricultural users of the resource, the product of a long history of irrigated agricultural development in the borderlands. The article argues that these conflicts must be understood historically, and suggests that these binational, regional dynamics should be cultivated in the effort to negotiate the social dimensions of the crisis of irrigated agriculture in the borderlands, and to establish a more sustainable and democratic process of water management in the river basin.

Key Words: Irrigation; Agriculture; Conflict; Borderlands; Water.

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