Números previos




Past Issues


Governors reach agreement to protect the Río Yaqui and exports

By Miguel Ángel Torres*

Foto de Mario Luna, el vocero de los gobernadores de la tribu Yaqui, que habla en una reunión

Yaqui Tribal council spokesperson Mario Luna talking in Vicam on December 14. (Photos: Courtesy of Coordinadora del Valle de Chalco).


The government of Sonora, headed by Guillermo Padrés, continues to steal water from the Yaqui River, continues to mock the order issued by the Mexican Supreme Court (SCJN) that would compel him to suspend activities on the Acueducto Independencia, and strikes a virtual death blow to the members of the Yaqui tribe, to the crops from this rich agricultural zone in the state’s southern region, and to the area’s biodiversity that exists because of the river’s abundance.

This may seem an exaggeration, but one only has to look at the facts:

The plundering has occurred under the program known as Sonora SI (Sonora Integral System), a large public water and irrigation project, which began in 2010 with plans to transfer 2.65 billion cu. ft. (19.81 billion gallons) annually from the El Novillo dam in Hermosillo, which is fed by the Río Yaqui. The Independence Aqueduct was constructed to supply water for the industrial expansion created by the arrival of businesses such as Apasco, Ford, Tecate, Coca-Cola, Big Cola, and Pepsi. In response to the plan, representatives from the Yaqui tribe attended judicial tribunals where they were successful in securing all of their legal rights. Most importantly, they won a decision by the SCJN, which states that ¨the project’s governing authority must declare `null and void’ the decision made on behalf of the federal authorities involved in the project as it relates to the Environmental Impact Statement issued February 23, 2011 during the S.G.P.A.-DGIPA, DG1633/11 proceedings.” The gist of the SCJN’s ruling was that the construction lacked an appropriate EIS and should be halted.

The order also compels the project to: 1. issue a new EIS that indicates whether or not the water rights of the Yaqui community would be harmed; and 2. hold a public consultation among the members of the tribe in order to determine if they would be adversely affected. If it were determined that they would be harmed, it orders authorities to compensate or minimize the actions that affect their survival, "even if it means reaching a determination that the project’s operations be suspended". This means jettisoning the entire project and the aqueduct.

Foto de Mario López Váldes, el gobernador del estado de Sinaloa en una reunión con la tribu Yaqui.

Sinaloa Governor Mario López Valdez and his team listen to the Yaqui.

Because the Padrés administration ignored the SCJN’s decision, the Yaqui tribe decided to blockade Federal Highway 15 between Mexico and Nogales, beginning last May. After 7 months, the Sonoran government is betting on the physical and political exhaustion of the Yaqui community, but results indicate otherwise.

In light of the power vacuum created by both the Sonoran and Federal governments, new actors have taken center stage, in this case the government of the neighboring state of Sinaloa, led by Mario López Valdez, and an organized civil society.

The Sinaloan governor met with the Yaqui Defense Brigade on December 14, 2013 in Vicam. López Valdez said that he traveled there with the consent of the administrations of both Sonora and President Enrique Peña Nieto, with the express purpose of acting, together with Sinaloan agricultural producers, as mediators. Their goals are: to develop a joint work agenda; to request a meeting with the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources to review the Yaqui case; and to broker a deal that both provides solutions to the problem of water extraction and brings a truce in the highway blockade until January, thus preventing disruptions in the exportation of agricultural products from the state to the United States.

According to López Valdez, Sinaloa has 2% of the nation’s population and 3% of its territory, while it produces 30% of the nation's food. About 40% of the salads that are consumed in the United States are made with ingredients from Sinaloa. It has annual earnings of a billion dollars and sends thousands of trucks to the border each day; thus the importance and interest in resolving the conflict soon.

For their part, the Yaqui Defense Brigade, led by spokesperson Mario Luna, points out that the tribe has 59,300 acres, of which 44,480 are in production, and that the extraction of 19.81 billion gallons of water a year would cause a loss of 24,700 acres of wheat, more than half of their current production capacity.

It is also a blow to their health and to the environment, Luna adds, because of the diversion of water that normally should recharge the aquifers. Aquifers are the only source of drinking water for the Yaqui, and because none of the Yaqui towns have potable water, all of the inhabitants use well water which contains, at minimum, harmful levels of arsenic and magnesium.

In environmental terms, the Mexican Center for Environmental Rights (CEMDA) points out that the project’s construction would create changes in the hydrological patterns of the region, as well as negative effects for the wetlands that are fed by the rivers that are to be diverted. Additionally, the project puts at risk the Bavispe-El Tigre Terrestrial Priority Region (Región Terrestre Prioritaria Bavispe-El Tigre) which is located in the Río Yaqui basin and the Río Yaqui-Cascada Basaseachic Hydrological Priority Region, both of which were designated as such by CONABIO, the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity.

In what is now known as the Vicam Agreement, the Yaqui Defense Brigade and the governor of Sinaloa signed an accord establishing that on October 22, 1940, a decree by President Lázaro Cárdenas was published in the Official Diary of the Mexican Federation, restoring and giving title of the territory to the Yaqui tribe, as well as bestowing on them 50% of the river’s water rights.

*Codirector of Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness