Two protesting farmers at the Boquilla Dam in Chihuahua, Mexico were killed by military police 9 September following altercations including stone-throwing, Molotov cocktails and occupation the dam’s control centre.
The farmers’ protest has arisen as a result of plans to divert more water from the drought-affected region to the United States to fulfill “water debt” obligations accruing under a 1944 water-sharing treaty. The protesters claim that further water transfers at this time would create a significant economic problem for the state.
Under the bilateral agreement Rio Grande water is allotted to the United States in cycles of five years, with the current cycle ending 24 October, 2020. Mexico is in deficit and must deliver to the United States an additional 432,360 acre-feet in the next three months.
As reported in OOSKAnews, there have been protests at the site since March when local farmers blocked a highway, seized a dam control room and set fire to trucks. As a result, the National Water Commission of Mexico (Conagua) backed down on a plan to divert water to the United States. Chihuahua Governor Javier Corral supported Conagua’s decision, describing the previous release plan as “erratic” and “foolish.”
Chihuahua state government officials prefer preserving resources for the use of their communities and have urged the strategy of “wait and hope for summer rains” that were anticipated to be sufficient to meet treaty commitments.
Nevertheless, in late July, demonstrators in Chihuahua continued the protests and burned several government vehicles, blocked railway tracks and set fire to a government office and highway tollbooths.
Federal officials have taken a different view.
Mexico President Lopez Obrador said in the spring: “We do not want an international conflict...Treaties have to be lived up to. If we have signed a treaty, we have to comply with it". He has also advocated paying the debt, citing that water received from the Colorado River is four time greater that water paid into the Rio Grande system.
Ultimately, Lopez Obrador is concerned about possible sanctions, the closing of the border, or the imposition of tariffs or other forms of retaliation.
As recently as 3 September, Lopez Obrador indicated that he might appeal to President Trump for clemency under the treaty or request an independent audit of the water payments.
In a 10 September news conference, Lopez Obrador called the newest incident “regrettable,” and added that the Attorney General's Office would investigate the case.
The US Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, the bilateral body that oversees treaty issues, has said that it “has not received any proposals from our Mexican counterparts to have the UN come in to audit water deliveries.”
In mid-July, the US Commissioner of the water commission, Jayne Harkins, said "they need to increase their water releases to the United States immediately,” adding “Mexico has failed to implement releases promised earlier and continuing to delay increases the risk of Mexico failing to meet its delivery obligation".