BOQUILLA, Mexico — The farmers armed themselves with sticks, rocks and homemade shields, ambushed hundreds of soldiers guarding a dam and seized control of one of the border region’s most important bodies of water.
The Mexican government was sending water — their water — to Texas, leaving them next to nothing for their thirsty crops, the farmers said. So they took over the dam and have refused to allow any of the water to flow to the United States for more than a month.
“This is a war,” said Victor Velderrain, a grower who helped lead the takeover, “to survive, to continue working, to feed my family.”
The standoff is the culmination of longstanding tensions over water between the United States and Mexico that have recently exploded into violence, pitting Mexican farmers against their own president and the global superpower next door.
Negotiating the exchange of water between the two countries has long been strained, but rising temperatures and long droughts have made the shared rivers along the border more valuable than ever, intensifying the stakes for both nations.
The dam’s takeover is a stark example of how far people are willing to go to defend livelihoods threatened by climate change — and of the kind of conflict that may become more common with increasingly extreme weather.
Along the arid border region, water rights are governed by a decades-old treaty that compels the United States and Mexico to share the flows of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers, with each side sending water to the other. Mexico has fallen far behind on its obligations to the United States and is now facing a deadline to deliver the water this month.
But this has been one of the driest years in the last three decades for Chihuahua, the Mexican border state responsible for sending the bulk of the water Mexico owes. Its farmers have rebelled, worried that losing any more water will rob them of a chance for a healthy harvest next year.
“These tensions, these tendencies, are already there, and they’re just made so much worse by climate change,” said Christopher Scott, a professor of water resources policy at the University of Arizona. “They are in a fight for their lives, because no water, no agriculture; no agriculture, no rural communities.”
Since February, when federal forces first occupied the dam to ensure water deliveries to the United States continued, activists in Chihuahua have burned government buildings, destroyed cars and briefly held a group of politicians hostage. For weeks, they’ve blocked a major railroad used to ferry industrial goods between Mexico and the United States.
Their revolt has alarmed farmers and politicians in Texas. Greg Abbott, the state’s Republican governor, appealed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month, demanding that he persuade Mexico to deliver the water by the deadline next week, or risk inflicting pain on American farmers.
Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has…
Read more:: In Mexico, Cross-Border Fight Over Water Erupts