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The hydraulic mission and the Mexican hydrocracy: Regulating and reforming the flows of water and power

Philippus Wester
Irrigation and Water Engineering Group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands
Edwin Rap
Irrigation and Water Engineering Group, Wageningen University, the Netherlands
Sergio Vargas-Velazquez
Mexican Institute of Water Technology, Morelos, Mexico

ABSTRACT: In Mexico, the hydraulic mission, the centralisation of water control, and the growth of the federal hydraulic bureaucracy (hydrocracy) recursively shaped and reinforced each other during the 20th century. The hydraulic mission entails that the state, embodied in an autonomous hydrocracy, takes the lead in water resources development to capture as much water as possible for human uses. The hydraulic mission was central to the formation of Mexico'€™s hydrocracy, which highly prized its autonomy. Bureaucratic rivals, political transitions, and economic developments recurrently challenged the hydrocracy'€™s degree of autonomy. However, driven by the argument that a single water authority should regulate and control the nation'€™s waters, the hydrocracy consistently managed to renew its, always precarious, autonomy at different political moments in the country€'s history. The legacy of the hydraulic mission continues to inform water reforms in Mexico, and largely explains the strong resilience of the Mexican hydrocracy to "deep" institutional change and political transitions. While the emphasis on infrastructure construction has lessened, the hydrocracy has actively renewed its control over water decisions and budgets and has played a remarkably constant, hegemonic role in defining and shaping Mexico'€™s water laws, policies and institutions.