In 2004, “white men in suits “from Canada, Australia and the USA descended upon El Salvador – they were the advance guard of the Pacific Rim Mining corporation. Their mission: to promote the OceanaGold mine deep in the interior. Initially many people were excited at the prospect of prosperity that Pacific Rim promised. Others soon discovered that the river system supplying their water was in danger of catastrophic contamination. In 2009, Marcelo Rivera, a school teacher and leader of the growing successful opposition, was gruesomely dismembered and dumped into a well outside his village. In 2016, after a three-year lawsuit, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes ruled against the project.
In 2006, Signs of imminent construction of the Agua Zarca hydro dam, a joint venture of Honduran and Chinese companies funded by the World Bank, set off alarms among the Lenca people. The dam would have decimated local tradition, culture and basic survival by cutting off access to food, water and medicinal plants. The Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) began challenging the dam. Berta Caceres, the national founder of COPINH, went to Rio Bravo to support their struggle. In April 2015 she received the international Goldman Environmental Prize; less than a year later she was assassinated. In 2017, construction of the Agua Zarca hydro project was suspended following the withdrawal of World Bank funding.
New Mexico and the Rio Grande Basin Study
These two stories of hope and resilience, heart-breaking and heartening, tell us to pay attention to the opportunities before us. While there are widespread inequities of income, education, health and access to power across our state, we are privileged to act on our values and beliefs, and not fear death, dismemberment, torture. We can publicly challenge water institutions and the status quo and not be disappeared into a dry well. We can work together to influence policy makers without fear of retribution.
This federal basin study, led by the Bureau of Reclamation, includes grassroots organizations, a national first. Middle and Upper Rio Grande grassroots groups with broad diversity are self-organizing as the Basin Study’s Community Organizations Sector (COS). At our third meeting on March 23, we identified shared values and guiding principles for our journey. Broadly described, they include recognition of the inherent values of the river as a river, scientific integrity and veracity of the basin study analyses, and broad public outreach to describe our water future under climate change and how we might adapt.
Some specifics called out by participants include:
Spiritual, ethical and moral values:
- The Rio Grande as mother
- Look at what feeds our souls
- Care for those with no voices like plants and animals
- Hold in greater weight soul needs not just allocations
Agriculture and community engagement
- Everyone works together
- Adapt to using less water
- Craft language and opportunities for community engagement
- Recognize hydrologic reality
- Face our climate change future
- Cast a wide net
- Build consensus on adaptation strategies
- Understand diverse perspectives
- Work together to face a difficult future
- Clear and respectful communication.
As the three-year Rio Grande Basin Study ramps up (the official start is imminent), we can prepare ourselves to “leave our positions at the door” and listen deeply to those with whom we disagree. We can choose to focus on shared interests rather than tumble mindlessly into the same old dead-end divisions. We can ask questions that open doors rather than slam them shut. We can treasure our unique cultural perspectives in service of the future. We can do this with gratitude for all the brave & dedicated water defenders living and passed – in service of planetary health and our shared future.