Mexico’s Water Crisis Continues – Syracuse University Expert Insights


The water available to many people in northern Mexico is drying up for reasons that go beyond the impact of global warming. Political decisions, international water law and dwindling resources are also to blame, say two Syracuse University professors.

Elizabeth Carter

Elizabeth Carter is an Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering and Earth Sciences at Syracuse University whose research specialty includes the study of hydroclimatic extremes.

Professor Carter says:

“The drought surfacing over old bodies in Lake Meade is triggering a humanitarian crisis in northern Mexico right now, and I’m really frustrated with the media coverage of it for two reasons. First, it There’s almost no media coverage. More than half of Mexico’s municipalities are currently facing water shortages, major cities get their water by bus, and it’s barely recorded in the US media. Second, I challenge the way the crisis is being framed. Mexican media blame corruption of police departments, corporate use of water, the failure of the Mexican government to enforce a new constitutional amendment declaring that water is a human right. This NYT article focuses on climate change, which is certainly at play here, but it’s not purely a natural disaster.

“There is an elephant in the room. This crisis concerns international water law. Most of northern Mexico’s major freshwater sources, such as the Rio Grande, Colorado River, and most major aquifers, cross the US-Mexico border…at least they once did. Massive engineering interventions in the United States, including the Hoover Dam, the Glenn Canyon Dam and the Central Arizona Project (Colorado River), the Closed Basin Project, the San Juan-Chama Trans-Mountain Diversion Project, the Middle Rio Grande and the Rio Grande (Rio Grande) project causes major rivers in northern Mexico to dry up before they reach the border, even in wet years. With surface waters, there are at least treaties in place to manage allocations. There are no international agreements on the use of shared groundwater resources, and the US Groundwater Act has created a corporate feeding frenzy that is draining shared aquifers so quickly that the Southwest is sinking.

“American politics and infrastructure have played a major role in spreading this crisis. It seems important for people in the United States to hear this side of the story right now.

Gladys McCormick

Gladys McCormick

Gladys McCormick is an associate professor in the League’s History Department and an expert on Mexico-US relations.

Professor McCormick says:

“Access to water – for agricultural, industrial and drinking purposes – has a long, controversial and complicated history in Mexico. Water infrastructure in most urban centers suffers from a lack of oversight as well as a lack of necessary modernization and upgrades. In major cities, including Mexico City, the water infrastructure was never designed to meet the needs of such a large population. In major centers of agricultural production in north-central Mexico, the need for irrigation has harmed communities that protect scarce resources. Problems with access to water have worsened exponentially throughout Mexico due to climate change and in some regions due to the presence of organized criminal networks that siphon water through informal markets to the biggest buyers. The government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador – or AMLO as it is known – has been unable and unwilling to spend the capital needed to stem the water crisis because climate change has not been taken into account in its administration. This reluctance is compounded in the border regions between Mexico and the United States, given the heated negotiations between the two countries over how to share scarce resources.

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