A shortage of water for irrigation in Chihuahua could grow into an economic and social crisis as crops diminish, in turn slashing jobs and income.
Chihuahua is one of 25 states suffering from drought, and one of 16 states where drought is present in all municipalities.
In Guachochi, Balleza and Guadalupe y Calvo the Ministry of Agriculture reports up to 90% losses in corn, bean, potato and sorghum crops, with 80% of those affected belonging to indigenous communities.
One farmer said that livestock will soon be under threat. “Right now we do not have reports of livestock losses, but if it does not rain this year we reckon that by the end of the year there will be a minimum loss of 50% between deaths and sales,” he said.
Federal lawmaker Mario Mata detailed the lack of water in reservoirs: the Las Vírgenes reservoir is at 17% capacity and any further extraction could cause structural failings, in the La Boquilla reservoir water levels are at 24%, 200 million cubic meters short of what is needed for irrigation, and the El Granero reservoir is the lowest he has ever seen, at 40%.
Mata warned that the ecological disaster could spill into economic and social crisis. “It means more than 30 billion pesos will not circulate through these municipalities … there are 14 municipalities where 85% of the gross domestic product is from the agricultural sector. We are going to have a serious social problem that we hope will not become a problem of insecurity,” he said.
“Many people from the south of the country come here, from Guerrero, Oaxaca and Michoacán. They come to work in the fields. Now there are no jobs and … [there are] increase security issues in the populated areas of the district … homes have already been robbed,” he added.
Salvador Alcántara, president of the Irrigation Association of Chihuahua, addressed the the scale of the issue in the Conchos River. “We’re all in crisis and on top of that there could be an ecological problem given that the Conchos River is completely dry. There is no water running in the river … I’m 66 and it’s the first time I’ve seen [it] dry,” he said.
The drought has become a campaign issue for the elections on June 6, driven particularly by then federal deputy Juan Carlos Loera’s support for giving 400 million cubic meters of water to the United States in compliance with the 1944 U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty. Loera is now the Morena party’s candidate for governor and a target for other candidates seeking to win the governor’s office.
Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate Graciela Ortiz has proposed the creation of a state water agency to “defend of the interests of the people of Chihuahua … never again will a government come and steal our water, as was the case with Morena,” she said.
Citizens’ Movement candidate Alfredo Lozoya said, “Here there is no room for a coward like Loera who betrayed us and gave away the water of the people of Chihuahua.”
The most recent drought report by the National Water Commission says 75% of the country is facing moderate to exceptional drought conditions, up very slightly from the previous report, issued April 30.
But the report comes after rainfall was recorded in early May, bringing relief to some parts of the country.
The drought has already resulted in higher prices for basic products like corn, beans, milk and meat.