This article by Victor M. Quintana S. originally appeared in Spanish in La Jornada: Opinion, on April 18, 2024. It was translated and edited for clarity and brevity by Denys Vigil.

No matter what the drought, Xóchitl Gálvez should not have come to Chihuahua and say that she is going to defend the state’s water without knowing the problem well. As if we chihuahuenses were not defending everyone’s water against the many years of PRI and PAN corrupt efforts.

On Sunday the 14th, in Camargo, Xóchitl bragged that she could resolve the conflict with the US about the water payment that, according to the 1944 International Treaty, must be made to the United States, of which 57 percent comes from the Conchos River. She even promised that with her, there will be no more empty dams. Definitely, she does not understand what Aridoamérica (Arid America) is.

She and her demagogue advisors should consider at least three issues: the first, that the concessions of the PRI and PAN governments and the illegal seizures by their protégés have greatly reduced the water available to pay for the treaty. The second — illegal wells are the main water problem in Chihuahua. Third, that these wells and seizures were promoted and tolerated during the federal PRIAN-RD administrations from 2000 to 2018.

In 2020 and 2021, Prianismo found that fueling the so-called guerra del agua (water war) to win the governorship and a submissive legislative majority. They made their flag the extraction of water from La Boquilla dam reserves on the Rio Grande to pay the volume stipulated in the 1944 treaty.

But they do not say that there would be enough to pay the volume required if the illegal uses and seizures from the Conchos River basin were stopped! There is an immense “huachicoleo” (theft) from this river and its tributaries, especially for irrigation of walnut orchards. A concession granted by Carlos Salinas, Mexico’s first neoliberal president, to Altos Hornos de México allows the extraction of 200 liters per second for the La Perla-Monclova water duct.

Even so, the most serious water problem in Chihuahua is not surface water and payment to the United States, but rather the runaway extraction of groundwater. In Chihuahua, the maximum number of hectares that are irrigated with surface water, from dams and rivers, barely reaches 128 thousand hectares. On the other hand, the area irrigated with groundwater now exceeds 600,000.

The surface irrigated with surface water cannot increase: the less it rains, the more it will shrink. On the other hand, the surface irrigated with groundwater has grown continuously, especially since 2004: between that year and 2021 it increased by 190,000 hectares – especially after President Peña Nieto lifted the ban on drilling for groundwater. Now, thanks to Fox, Calderón and Peña Nieto, there are more than 18 thousand legal concessions that have been granted for groundwater extraction in Chihuahua and between 5 thousand and 7 thousand illegal wells.

More graphically stark: the total concessioned volume of groundwater throughout the state amounts to 3,334 cubic hectometers annually; but 6,566 are extracted: almost double, most for agricultural use, and the annual deficit reaches 3,312 cubic hectometers. That amount is equivalent to the entire storage of the La Boquilla dam and quadruple what has to be paid annually to the United States. The main beneficiaries of the illegal wells and the over-concession of volumes are large farmers and walnut growers who support the PRIAN.

So opposition PRIAN-RD candidates should not to try to deceive us. In Chihuahua, in Arid America, we know the water problem well and we have been defending ourselves for a long time.  Don’t “defend” us, Xóchitl!