Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Exit of PAN and Padrés Not Likely to Result in Aqueduct Closure

Sonora Chronicles

As PAN and Padrés Exit, Yaqui Water 
Will Keep Flowing to Hermosillo

For the past five years, Governor Guillermo Padrés Elías was the chief protagonist in one of the most divisive water waters in the transborder West.

In early 2010, only months after PAN’s candidate took the governorship for the first time in Sonora’s history, Padrés announced his plan for the Independencia aqueduct. Known popularly as the Novillo-Hermosillo aqueduct, the water pipeline was constructed to transfer water from the middle basin of the Yaqui River to meet the water crisis in Hermosillo, the PAN governor sparked a militant anti-aqueduct movement based in the river’s lower basin.

At first, the “No al Novillo” and Citizens Water Movement in the Yaqui Valley demanded that the aqueduct not be constructed because it would reduce water supplies needed by the Yaquis, valley agribusiness, and Ciudad Obregón. Then when the Padrés administration pushed through the aqueduct construction with support of then-president Felipe Calderón (also of PAN), ignoring various court orders and Yaqui demands that they be consulted, a militant faction of Yaquis began intermittently blocking the state’s only north-south highway.

The Yaqui blockades counted on the support of agribusiness sector and the PRI.  Members of movements protesting the aqueduct painted
Governor Padrés and the PAN as the chief architects and supporters of the aqueduct. 

The political reality was, however, not as simplistic as the anti-aqueduct movement asserted.  The recent electoral victory of PRI’s gubernatorial candidate Claudia Pavlovich will likely reveal the broad support for the aqueduct and other hydraulic megaprojects among Sonora’s political and economic elite and the federal government.

Main Institutional Players In Yaqui Water War


The chief institutional protagonists are the federal government and the Sonora state government.  As governor, Guillermo Pádres has been the leading advocate of the Novillo-Hermosillo aqueduct, acting through the governor’s office, the newly created state agency Sonora Sistema Integral (Sonora SI), and the State Water Commission (CEA), as well as state offices, such as the attorney general’s office and other agencies that provide basic services and rural development assistance (to pacify and divide the Yaqui).


While Governor Padrés and Sonora SI have been the most visible state government proponents of the Yaqui River water transfer, the Independencia aqueduct would not have been possible without the federal government, which is a strong proponent of new aqueducts and dams to address water shortages. But more than advocating hydraulic solutions, CONAGUA provides at least two-thirds of the funding (usually more than 90%) for these projects, including the contested aqueduct in Sonora.

Aside from the financing, federal agencies, including SEMARNAT and its decentralized arm PROFEPA, rubber-stamped the construction plans for the aqueduct, without giving any consideration to environmental impact of the water transfer. CONAGUA never seriously evaluated how much water was being legally drawn with valid permits from the Yaqui River, how much water belonged to the Yaqui, or the impact of climate change and prolonged droughts on Yaqui River flows.


The city and county of Hermosillo have been prime advocates of the aqueduct but have no official role. The counties of Cajeme and San Ignacio Río Muerto in the Yaqui Valley took their case against the aqueduct to the Supreme Court and lost on the fundamental question about the legality of the aqueduct. However, the Supreme Court did find SEMARNAT’s environment impact study woefully lacking, and ordered it to produce another more credible evaluation.

The Yaqui have no legal standing within Mexico as an autonomous government. Instead, the Yaqui must pursue their interests through the political structures of the mestizo-controlled municipios and ejidos. Yaqui communities do have their own form of governments with governors, secretaries, and spokesmen. Yet these communities and their leadership are divided with different factions having their own leadership. This absence of a legally-recognized central government makes the Yaqui and other indigenous communities subject to manipulation by local, state, and federal governments as well as by those with special economic and political interests.

The Yaqui Valley Irrigation District, representing most large farmers and agribusinesses, together with the PRI provided logistical and other support for traffic disruptions.

Political Parties

The dynamics of the Yaqui Water War have in no small degree been shaped by the political ambitions of the two leading political parties, the PRI and the PAN, and to a lesser extent by less influential parties in Sonora, notably PRD.

With the launching of Sonora SI and the construction of the Independencia aqueducts and other hydraulic megaprojects, PAN has hoped to solidify its hold on the Sonoran electorate, given the broad support for such projects, especially in Hermosillo and other the desert cities.  

The political dynamics changed after PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto succeeded PAN’s Felipe Calderón as president. PRI politicians, although historically strongly supportive of such hydraulic projects and in particular the longstanding Yaqui River aqueduct plan, have since 2010 criticized the aqueduct, albeit mainly with respect to budgetary and legal issues rather than over the need for the aqueduct.

Meanwhile, CONAGUA and other federal agencies have not backed away from their support even as tensions between the PRI and PAN in Sonora and between the federal and state government escalate. It is unlikely that either party would currently or in the future support any definitive closure of the aqueduct, given the depth of support for the aqueduct outside the Yaqui Valley.

CONAGUA is a Principal Player

Sonora’s water crisis can ultimately be attributed to the lack of due diligence by CONAGUA. Without ensuring that the Novillo-Hermosillo aqueduct counted on all the proper state and federal permits and impact studies, CONAGUA financed and supported the aqueduct’s construction and operation at least until 2013.

Without guaranteeing that the aqueduct would not adversely affect the water rights of the Yaqui or even consulting the Yaqui, CONAGUA gave the go ahead to inter-basin water transfer. What’s more, CONAGUA provided critical backing to the fictitious backstory created by Sonora SI and the state water commission (CEA) in the face of widening opposition.

CONAGUA echoed the state government’s claims that most of the aqueduct water came either from unallocated Yaqui river water or from the purchase of water rights from small landholders and ejidatarios  (members of collective land holdings called ejidos) in the middle basin.

It is true, as CONAGUA officials are apt to assert, that national water law decentralized the control and monitoring of water use, giving state and local authorities more participation and responsibility. Yet CONAGUA is not some distant bureaucracy in Mexico City. 

Not only does CONAGUA have extensive offices in Hermosillo, all water drilling and water-diversion permits in Sonora, as well as all major hydraulic projects, come under the jurisdiction of the Hermosillo-based Organismo de Cuenca Noroeste  (Northwest Basin Agency). In theory, this agency protects the sustainability of water resources in each of the state’s major water basins. Indeed, CONAGUA’s Sonora branch consists of separate planning offices for Sonoyta, Concepción, Sonora, Yaqui, Mátape, and Mayo basins.

In other words, it is not the state government, whether controlled by PRI, PRD, PAN, or the Partido Verde (Green Party), that bears ultimate responsibility for the sustainability of Sonora’s hydraulic society. Rather, it is the federal government through CONAGUA— and not only because it authorizes water megaprojects and even individual wells, but also because it and the federal government’s central budget provide the principal funding for all major water works in Sonora.

(Photos by Tom Barry; 1) Yaqui anti-aqueduct banner at Estación Vicam, 2) Yaqui blockade on Route #15, 3) Aqueduct enters Hermosillo, and 4) Abelardo Rodríquez dam in Hermosillo.)

PRI Wins Back Sonora, Yaqui Water War Left in the Dust

Vineyards to produce table grapes for export to U.S. markets continue to expand in the Sonoran Desert north of Hermosillo due to government-backed water drilling and water diversion projects supported by government, while farmers and ranchers with small holdings and shallow wells (top photo of abandoned farm south of now-dry Abelardo Rodríquez dam in Hermosillo) are left without traditional water supplies -- despite their prayers. New vineyard attributes its prosperity with belief in desert miracles. After all, Luke in the Bible says: "Nothing is impossible for God." / Photos by Tom Barry

Sonora Chronicles

PRI Wins Back Sonora, Yaqui Water War Left in the Dust

Tom Barry

As election day approached, it was a toss-up. In Sonora, the gubernatorial election pitted two governing parties against one another.

The PRI controlled the federal government, and PAN held political power in the state. The gubernatorial election pitted the PRI the PAN – two parties bereft of moral principles and burdened by long rap sheets for their patronage schemes, personal enrichment of political leaders, and blatant favoritism of friends and family in government contracts.

There were good reasons to believe that PAN’s Javier Gándara (former Hermosillo mayor) would succeed Guillermo Padrés Elías as Sonora’s new governor in September 2015. But many other observers and political insiders in Sonora persuasively argued that Senator Claudia Pavlovich would win back the Palacio del Gobierno in Hermosillo for PRI – the political party that had held the governor’s office for seven decades until PAN’s electoral victory in June 2009.

In hindsight, Pavlovich’s victory seemed assured given the crescendo of corruption scandals that started sweeping over the PAN administration in mid-2014.

From his first year, Governor Padrés began building a virulent opposition movement to his administration. By pushing through the Novillo-Hermosillo aqueduct transfers mountain water from the Yaqui River to the state’s booming capital city situated in the Sonoran Desert, Padrés sparked an anti-aqueduct alliance in the river’s lower basin in the Yaqui Valley and in Ciudad Obregón.  At the same time, however, Padrés initially reinforced – and even extended – support for his administration and PAN by his backing of water megaprojects, including dams and other aqueducts, to bring mountain water to desert cities and coastal plains.

But the governor’s arrogance, lack of fiscal accountability (or any other sort of public accountability), self-serving projects (like using government funds to build a dam to serve his family’s ranch), and shocking (even for Mexico) corruption, eroded his base of political support, even in Hermosillo. The PAN administration’s pilfering of the budgets of an array of state agencies – including the education, public health, education, among other departments – to shift funds to favorite projects and favored companies surpassed the traditional and expected levels of corruption in the governor’s palace.

Yet PRI also faced the election burdened by the plummeting support for President Peña Nieto – mainly because of his own corruption scandals and the increasing evidence that the military and police were among the prime suspects in a wave of horrific violence (including the disappearance of 43 students in Michoacán).

While each party tapped government funds to buy the vote, Senator Pavlovich had the advantage of being able to promise an increased flow of federal funds and favors from the national PRI-controlled government (executive branch, Congress, and courts) to communities that would support PRI in the June electoral contest.

Governor Padrés won the 2009 election with his promise to create a “New Sonora.” But after six years, voters, sickened by the blatant corruption and the resulting monumental public debt (20.7 billion pesos – representing more then 55% of annual state revenues), more voters were persuaded by Pavlovich’s promises of “Another Sonora. (“Otro Sonora”).”

Despite all the protests and brouhaha about the Novillo-Sonora aqueduct during the past five years, it wasn’t an issue during the elections. None of the candidates – from either the major or minor parties – took a position on the aqueduct. Given that the PRI at both the federal and state levels has been the primary proponent and financial backer of water megaprojects, there is little expectation that the new governor will withdraw state or federal financial support for the hydraulic projects initiated by Padrés and his Sonora SI (Integrated System) water-project agency.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Don't Defund, Just Dismantle the Department of Homeland Security

 Tom Barry
(First published on Feb. 26 in the Boston Review)
The Republican majority has refused to approve new funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Following the lead of the party’s most conservative members, congressional Republicans will reject a new DHS budget unless President Obama reverses his November 2014 executive order to protect more than 4 million immigrants from deportation. Republicans are right to obstruct the routine annual funding of DHS—but they are doing it for the wrong reasons.
DHS would be an easy target of standard conservative critiques of big government. The third largest federal department is hugely wasteful, unaccountable, unmanageable, and emblematic of governmental mission creep. Yet President Obama has kept increasing the budget and expanding the reach of DHS—his most recent initiative is to increase the department’s role in cybersecurity through $6 billion in contracts with major military and intelligence contractors including Lockheed Martin and Booz Allen Hamilton.
The DHS funding debate lays bare the disjuncture between the department’s core mission and its actual operations; the political standard has largely ignored the DHS counterterrorism mission. Instead, the dispute over DHS has revolved around the traditional divides over immigration policy.
This is unfortunate. It is time to reconsider the notion of a having a homeland security department. Rather then routinely submitting and approving the budgets of the bureaucratic monstrosity that DHS has become, the executive branch and Congress should consider dismantling DHS. Separating immigration policy from the post-9/11 security framework is fundamental to ending the waste and creating any sustainable and sensible immigration policy reform.
• • •
A product of post-9/11 fear-driven politics, DHS is a conglomeration of twenty-two different agencies created by the Bush administration under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 with little consideration of the difficulties of merging such diverse agencies as FEMA, Secret Service, Border Patrol, and the Coast Guard. Prior to the creation of DHS, immigration and border control came under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice and were regarded primarily as issues of regulation and law. Under DHS, counterterrorism and national security became the dominant framework for immigration and border policy. President George W. Bush promised that the new federal department would “improve efficiency without growing government.” Furthermore, according to President Bush, the new federal department would eliminate “duplicative and redundant activities that drain critical homeland security resources.” Yet, with more than 240,000 employees, DHS is the third largest federal department—surpassing the Department of Justice and State Department, and with a larger budget than the latter.  Democrats and Republicans alike have continually increased the DHS annual budgets.
One of the primary indications of the Department’s dysfunction and lack of direction is the continuing DHS inability to formulate a concise and consistent definition of “homeland security.” There was no consensus on the meaning of the term at the time of its creation. And there was absolutely no consideration of the implications of having governmental functions such as border control, emergency management, and immigration enforcement framed as security operations. Nonetheless, the budget for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which includes the Border Patrol, has more than doubled since 2003– rising from $27 billion to $59 billion in 2014—and now accounts for 21 percent of the DHS budget, making it the largest DHS agency. The CBP is also the nation’s largest law enforcement agency.
The DHS funding debate lays bare the disjuncture between the department’s core mission and its actual operations.
With each new director and changes in political issues, DHS tweaks the definition of the term and its mission statement. Defining Homeland Security, a January 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service, underscored the existential crisis facing DHS as its counterterrorism mission has lost focus. CRS observed: “Ten years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. government does not have a single definition for ‘homeland security.’ [Instead,] different strategic documents and mission statements offer varying missions that are derived from different homeland security definitions.”
For instance, DHS programs now provide grants to local and state police for purchasing license plate readers, military-grade vehicles, surveillance equipment, and drones. And DHS continues to fund dozens of “fusion centers,” which were established as decentralized counterterrorism intelligence centers but have tracked lawful citizen organizing, including the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Another sign of DHS dysfunction is the low morale of department employees and officials. No other federal department suffers such high rates of job dissatisfaction. Not only does DHS rank as the department with lowest morale, the level of contentedness within DHS has also been dropping at a faster rate than any other department—decreasing 7 percent in the last four years, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
DHS employees and officials cite the department’s stifling bureaucracy and lack of performance measures among the many reasons for plummeting morale. The agency has spent at least $2 million on four studies seeking strategies to improve morale. But no study questioned the viability of a department with so many clashing cultures and one whose operations are so diffuse.
No other federal department is subject to greater congressional oversight. Some ninety congressional committees and subcommittees monitor DHS operations. But this extensive oversight hasn’t produced a more effective and cost-efficient department. To the contrary. Doing the rounds before these congressional committees, DHS officials shape their statements according to the political agendas of committee chairmen, thereby further contributing to the mission drift of DHS.
Rather than providing effective oversight, congressional committees—notably the House Homeland Security Committee and its Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee—function more as boosters and cheerleaders. Eager to display their hardline positions on border security or immigration enforcement, congressional members keep pushing DHS to ramp up its border security operations, resulting in a trail of monumental boondoggles such as the virtual border fence, intelligence fusion centers, deployment of military-grade drones to the border, and a border wall that costs $1–7 billion each mile (depending on the terrain) to construct. Without effective congressional oversight and with constant congressional pressure to expand DHS operations, the department relies heavily on private contractors—many of whom also generously contribute to the election campaigns of committee members—for the management and implementation of core DHS functions, such as cybersecurity.
Over the past dozen years, governmental research and monitoring agencies have published an ever-expanding library of reports that the agency’s waste and failure. Hundreds of reports by the Congressional Research Service, GAO, and the DHS Office of Inspector General have painted a picture of an agency badly divided and highly dysfunctional.
Since its creation, the GAO has identified DHS as a “high risk” government agency, pointing to the continuing challenge of integrating twenty-two agencies into one department. The GAO states that DHS has made progress but that the challenges of managing the mix of diverse agencies continue to impact “the department’s ability to satisfy its missions.” According to the GAO, “DHS’s management and mission risks could have serious consequences for U.S. national and economic security.”
• • •
After more than a dozen years, DHS is still floundering in its efforts to construct its own headquarters. Originally projected to cost $3.9 billion, DHS headquarters is $1.5 billion over budget and twelve years behind schedule. Completion was projected for this year, but according to the GAO it will not likely be finished until 2026. Meanwhile, the twenty-two DHS agencies remain scattered in fifty offices in the Washington, DC area. The GAO says that DHS should consider alternatives.
Dismantling DHS would be likely easier than consolidating it and refocusing its mission. Indeed, if Obama wants to decouple immigration and border policies from counterterrorism and security policies, dismantling DHS may be the only way. Otherwise, the recent immigration order—paired with a call for increased funding for border security, the hiring of 20,000 more Border Patrol agents, and a commitment to “crack down on illegal immigration at the border—just looks like playing politics.

Tom Barry directs the Transborder Program at the Center for International Policy and is a contributor to the Americas Program. This news commentary was first published by the Boston Review at:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Grupo México's La Caridad Mine as Government Charity

Image of 1912 governmental order giving Grupo México’s Mexicana de Cobre’s mining and metallurgical operations known as La Caridad permission to generate electricity with no fee from a planned hydroelectric plant Grupo México is building on the La Angostura dam.

Entrance to the Grupo México’s Buenavista copper mine in Cananea / Global Media Agencies

Tom Barry

The National Water Commission (Conagua), State Water Commission (CEA), and Grupo México have been forthcoming about the consumption and contamination of water in the Yaqui River basin. The federal government’s environmental agencies have ignored Grupo México’s systemic disregard for the environmental consequences of their operations. And neither the federal government nor the state of Sonora have protected the ejidos and towns near its mines from displacement and environmental contamination, despite a long history of complaints.

Grupo México’s La Caridad mine and metallurgical complex near Nacozari de Garcia is a tightly guarded enclave. Situated next to La Angostura – Sonora’s first major dam and reservoir – La Caridad has since the construction of the dam been its major beneficiary.

Grupo México says that it pays fees to Conagua for its water consumption at all its operations “with the exception of but that it pumps water directly from the reservoir – apparently without any fees. As it states in its annual report, “Mexicana de Cobre (La Caridad) pumps water directly from the La Angostura, which is near the mine and the processing plants.”[i]

Mexicana de Cobre operates one of the three acueducts that pumps water from Yaqui River basin.

The pumping station at La Angostura transfers a reported 26 Mm3 of water to the company’s copper and molybdenum mining operations and processing plants.

Under a 1991 agreement between the Yaquis and Conagua and CEA (opposed by committees in Vícam and Pótam but signed by eight governors), the Yaqui-Guaymas aqueduct transfers 22Mm3 of water from the Yaqui Valley to Guaymas, Empalme, and San Carlos.

The Independencia aqueduct has the capacity to transfer 75Mm3 from the middle Yaqui River basin at the Novillo reservoir to Hermosillo.

The exact amount of water that Grupo México’s Mexicana de Cobre complex extracts from the river and by its wells within the vast complex – encompassing 104,990 hectares – is not publicly known. However, the three aqueducts alone extract 123 Mm3 of water from the Yaqui River basin – which is about 20% more than the total capacity of La Angostura. When ordering the construction of La Angostura, President Lázaro Cárdenas decreed in 1940 that the Yaquis had water rights to half the reservoir’s capacity – but these promised water rights have never been implemented, which helps explains the vehement Yaqui opposition to the Novillo-Hermosillo aqueduct.

Nacozari de García is a quintessential mining town. It is also the closest large town to La Angostura, which lies about 20 miles to the city’s southeast. Despite its proximity to the reservoir and its role as Grupo México’s offices for La Caridad, the city has for decades suffered severe water shortages. While the mine has free access to the reservoir, neither the mine nor the government has created the infrastructure necessary to supply Nacozari with water from Angostura.

In contrast, the federal government allows Grupo México to exploit La Angostura as it pleases.

The federal government’s privileged treatment of Grupo México continues from sexenio to sexenio, whether PAN or PRI presidents. A recent example of how the federal government gives Grupo México free rein exploit the country’s natural resources is the company’s plan to tap into the dam’s hydroelectric capacities – without regard to environmental impacts, Yaqui water rights, or impact on other traditional users of Yaqui River water. 

In September 2012 the Federal Energy Regulation Commission granted Grupo México permission to establish a 7.00 MW hydroelectric facility to generate an estimated 41.00 GWh of electricity to serve the needs of La Caridad. According to the permit, Grupo México would begin generating electricity in September 2014.[ii]

There was no fee specified on the grounds that the electricity would not be for sale but for self-sufficiency (“autobastecimiento”). Furthermore, the federal commission noted that the “opportune and efficient provision of energy is one of the pillars that supports national development and constitutes a necessary condition to attain its goals of growth.” What is more, the use of La Angostura water would “respond chiefly to the company’s goals to increase the competitiveness of the production processes of its various businesses.”

Before seeking approval of the federal energy commission, Conagua on September 29, 2010 had granted Grupo México a water-use permit (“título de concesión”) to “exploit, use, or take advantage of national surface waters amounting to 416,669,000 cubic meters of water annually.” Conagua reports that La Angostura has a capacity 864 Mm3 although other Conagua reports note that effective capacity because of silt accumulation has decreased to 700 Mm3.

The Conagua permit was issued without any environmental impact study. The permit for Grupo México to use such immense quantities of water in the upper Yaqui River basin came at the time that the anti-Novillo-Hermosillo coalition was organizing large demonstrations. The Yaquis were formulating legal cases against the aqueduct that, among other things, asserted that SEMNARNAT’s environmental impact statement on the aqueduct was grossly inadequate since it didn’t take into account the impact on the river because of reduced flows.

La Caridad copper mine adjacent to La Angostura dam and reservoir with aqueduct in foreground.

Understandably, the focus of the anti-aqueduct coalition was on the Conagua-approved and -financed transfer of water from the Yaqui River basin to Hermosillo in the depleted Sonora River basin. Conagua tried to assuage the coalition’s concerns that the aqueduct would leave the lower Yaqui River basin without a dependable supply of water, especially during droughts with the still-unconfirmed story that it had bought water rights from small farmers in the middle river basin. What the federal water agency didn’t say – and still hasn’t acknowledged – that the highly questionable water permits issued to Grupo México and other mining operations constituted were responsible for vast withdrawals of water from both the Sonora and Yaqui basins.

Prior to the federal energy commission’s approval of Grupo México’s permission, the company had also succeeded in securing a favorable ruling by SEMARNAT, the federal environmental ministry. SEMARNAT determined that there would be no need for an environmental impact statement for the hydroelectric plant to be operated by México Generadora de Energía (MGE).

The determination followed SEMARNAT’s practice of narrowing the scope of the possible environmental impact to the construction of the hydroelectric plant rather than considering the manifold impacts on water quality, wildlife, and the riparian environment. SEMARNAT ruled on January 27, 2011that “there would be no need for any presentation of a study of environmental impact for its authorization.” As the Union of Concerned Scientists has concluded, hydroelectric plants need to be carefully regulated. If, for example, the water used for electricity generation includes water from the lower levels of a reservoir the oxygen level of the released water will be insufficient to maintain river life.[iii]

Grupo México created MGE in 2005 and received approval by the Energy Regulatory Commission to generate electricity for the company’s mining and metallurgical operations in Sonora. Grupo México told its stockholders that MGE would produce electrical energy to its Mexican open pit mining operations “at a discount of the cost charged by CFE (Federal Electricity Commission).” Grupo México boasted that its MGE subsidiary formed part of the company’s commitment of strengthening its mining division position as one of the world’s low cost producers.”[iv] Grupo México has not reported if the planned hydroelectric plant is currently operating, although it has installed two gas-turbine generators at La Caridad.

Although not mentioned by Grupo México, free, easy, and irregular access to water in Mexico is likely one of the reasons that transnational firm is one of the world’s low cost producers.

Like the “irregular” water permits issued by Conagua to Grupo México, the federal energy regulatory commission’s authorization was also irregular. The commission issued its authorization in September 2013 for the construction of the company’s hydroelectric plant in September 2013 but Grupo México had been busy constructing the facility since July 2012.  In other words, the commission ruled on Grupo México’s request at mid-point in the construction process, creating the assumption that Grupo México had been assured of the commission’s approval. While this process was on the face of it irregular, it is the regular process of corporate-governmental relations in Mexico.

Until the late 1980s, Grupo México’s Buenavista and La Caridad mining complexes were government-owned mining corporations. Yet while the federal government held the title to these massive operations, they were heavily financed through NAFINSA, the government’s development bank, with most of the debt held by foreign investors and banks. When the government privatized La Caridad, the enterprise was heavily indebted – owing $1.36 billion to foreign banks.[v]

This history as a heavily indebted government enterprise established a pattern of free access to water and the lack of enforcement of environmental, land-use, and occupational safety regulations.

Essentially, La Angostura functions as Grupo México’s private dam and reservoir. Except for one access road to the reservoir for tourists and fishermen, Grupo México strictly controls the dam from the west and south.

What is becoming clear that the government and the mining industry need to be more forthright about water-consumption and water-contamination by the miniWhile primarily a Mexican concern, the boom in mining exploration and extraction in Mexico’s northern borderlands – in Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, and Coahuila, especially – has international repercussions.

The impact of operations of such companies as Grupo México, Peñoles, and Grupo Frisco don’t stop at the international border but are putting at risk the quantity and quality of transboundary surface water flows and groundwater basins that span the border.

[i] Grupo México, Southern Peru Copper, “Formulario 10-K 2013,” Submitted in Washington, DC., at According to Grupo México: Los derechos por uso de agua se establecen en la Ley Federal de Derechos, la cual distingue varias zonas de disponibilidad con diferentes tarifas por unidad de volumen, dependiendo de cada
zona, con la excepción de Mexicana de Cobre. Todas nuestras
operaciones tienen una o varias concesiones de agua y bombean
de pozos el agua que necesitan.”
[ii] “Resolución por la que la Comisión Reguladora de Energía ortorga a Mexicana de Cobre, S.S. de C. V., permiso para generar energía eléctrica bajo la modalidad de autobastecimiento para su central La Angostura,” Comisión Reguladora de Energía, Núm. RES/379/2013, 19 de septiembre de 2013.
[iii] Union of Concerned Scientists, “Environmental Impact of Hydroelectric Plants,” at
[iv] Grupo México, press release, n.d., at:  Before it began work on the hydroelectric plant, MGE, which is based on Grupo México’s property alongside La Angostura, was operating two gas-fired electricity generating plants at the La Caridad and Buenavista mining complexes. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had approved the creation of MGE in 2005 for the purpose of operating gas-fired plants, and it wasn’t until later in the decade that Grupo México came before the commission with the request for a MGE-run hydroelectric plant.“ S&P Rates MGE,” Reuters, Nov. 16, 2012, 2012.
[v] “Mine Sold in Mexico,” Nov. 4, 1988, New York Times, at