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Deluges of grandeur: Water, territory, and power on Northwest Mexico'€™s Rio Mayo, 1880-1910

Jeffrey M. Banister
Southwest Center and School of Geography and Development, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA; banister@email.arizona.edu

ABSTRACT: Northwest Mexico'€™s irrigation landscape, known today as El Distrito de Riego 038, or El Valle del Mayo, issues from historical struggles to build an official order out of a diverse world of signs, symbols, processes, places, and peoples. It is the ancestral home of the Yoreme (Mayo), an indigenous group for whom colonisation and agricultural development have meant the loss of autonomy and of the seasonal mobility required to subsist in an arid land. It is also the birthplace of President Álvaro Obregón, a one-time chickpea farmer who transformed late-19th century irrigation praxis into the laws and institutions of 20th century water management. Reshaping territory for the ends of centralising ('federalising') water resources has always proved exceedingly difficult in the Mayo. But this was particularly so in the beginning of the federalisation process, a time of aggressive modernisation under the direction of President Porfirio Diaz (1876-1910). Research on Mexican hydraulic politics and policy, with some important exceptions, has tended to focus on the scale and scope of centralisation. Scholars have paid less attention to the moments and places where water escapes officials'€™ otherwise ironclad grasp. This paper explores water governance (and state formation more broadly) in the late 19th century, on the eve of Mexico'€™s 1910 Revolution, as an ongoing, ever-inchoate series of territorial claims and projects. Understanding the weaknesses and incompleteness of such projects offers critical insight into post-revolutionary and/or contemporary hydraulic politics.