The Texas-Mexico water dispute and its resolution (?): agricultural liquid & land practice and discourse along the Rio Conchos, Chihuahua, 1990-2005

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Reed, Cyrus, 1965-

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Between 1992 and 2005, Chihuahua's Río Conchos outflows were at less than 10 percent of their historical average, prompting a highly public dispute with the U.S. over water quantity under terms of the 1944 U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty. Still, Mexico made a number of water "payments" and achieved an eventual resolution of the dispute. The resolution focused on a number of steps, including investing over $140 million in irrigation district water conservation projects in the Río Conchos, which has historically provided two-thirds of the Río Grande's water below Fort Quitman. Utilizing a case study approach rooted in political and cultural ecology, the research examines the factors -- from drought to land use change-- purported by different interest groups as contributing to the transboundary Texas-Mexico water dispute and finds at least three major "narratives" emerged in the period to explain the low flows, including drought, dam management and agricultural expansion and land use changes. The dissertation shows, however, that the reduced outflows and reductions in "dam" water to farmers was just one factor in a changing agricultural context in which new land tenure rules, decentralization of water management and the enactment of a more open economic framework precipitated resource use changes within the agricultural areas. In addition, the dissertation examines water and land resource use, including conservation projects, in three specific agricultural areas, and finds significant transformations in markets, policies and climate. Farmers were not just passive victims of reduced water use, the curtailment of government programs, and "privatization" of land and water resources, but adopted alternative water source strategies, began to examine more "conservationist-minded" agricultural practices and shifted cultivation to higher yield crops. Still, many farmers chose to abandon agriculture altogether, as there was some consolidation of resources among wealthier farmers. The "transnationalization" of the Río Conchos which has resulted from the new focus on its water users may influence local decision-making, but the research contends that resource management decisions in the Río Conchos Watershed are influenced and determined by local practices and environments as well as by economic and legal changes brought about by Mexico's inclusion into a globalized economy.