Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription Access

The Politics of Water Allocation in El Paso County Colonias

C. Richard Bath, Janet M. Tanski, Roberto E. Villarreal


Nowhere is the scarcity of water more evident than in the Rio Grande Valley shared by Las Cruces, New Mexico, El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. The battle for control over water has already strained relations between the three cities, the three states and two national governments. The controversy brings out many of the fundamental questions that arise when the utilization of a valuable and relatively scarce resource is discussed. In this article we will analyze the way in which water has been allocated in El Paso County. We will address specifically the issue of El Paso County's colonias (the unincorporated rural settlements without basic water and sewage services). Neither governmental nor private entities (developers) have provided water or sewage service to the colonias. This, compounded with poor housing conditions, becomes a threat to all, as disease spreads rapidly in the unsanitary conditions present in many colonias. Why has the population in the colonias grown so rapidly? Why do the colonias have such poor infrastructure and lack so many services? What are the politics behind water apportionment in the county? These are some of the questions that this aricle will address.

Section I will review the causes for the development of the colonias. Section II will describe the water resources available in the El Paso-Juárez region. In Section III, the politics of water allocation in the county will be discussed. Section IV describes efforts by Mexican Americans and the grassroots organization EPISO to bring water and waste treatment facilities into the colonias. Finally, in the conclusion, we review the lessons that can be learned about water disputes and Lagino empowerment.

Full Text:


All rights reserved
Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229