Water grabbing via institutionalised corruption in Zacatecas, Mexico

Darcy Tetreault
Department of Development Studies, Autonomous University of Zacatecas (Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas), Mexico; email: darcytetreault@yahoo.com

Cindy McCulligh
Department of Development Studies, Autonomous University of Zacatecas (Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas), Mexico; email: cindymcculligh@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: Groundwater overdraft is a growing problem in the central region of Zacatecas. In this high-altitude semiarid region located in the Western Sierra Madre of north central Mexico, the over-exploitation of aquifers is compounded by problems of water contamination and unjust distribution. Most of the water extracted from wells, and the best quality water, is delivered to the private sector: to large- and medium-scale farmers and to industrial producers of beverages. Conversely, water with concentrations of arsenic and fluoride far above permissible limits for human consumption is channelled mostly to the public urban sector. Recently, the government of the state of Zacatecas and the National Water Commission have laid plans to build a large dam on the Milpillas River to the west of the state capital, to increase the supply of water for public, urban and industrial consumption in the central region of the state. What are the political economic forces that have historically shaped and continue to shape the water crisis in the central region of Zacatecas? Why have existing water governance policies and practices been unable to effectively address the crisis? Can an interbasin transfer from the Milpillas Dam deliver on its promise to allow aquifers in this region to recover from over-exploitation? We introduce and employ the concept of institutionalised corruption to explain the modus operandi of infringement on water laws by government agencies and large water consumers and/or polluters, particularly for the purpose of accommodating the needs of extractive capital. Along these lines, we demonstrate that the Milpillas Dam will not allow aquifers to recover and argue that the driving political economic forces behind the project treat it as a vehicle for the realisation of capital through the commodification of produced water, which allows for the extraction of rent.

KEYWORDS: Institutionalised corruption, water grabbing, value grabbing, rent, Zacatecas, Mexico