Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Water Rights: The New Salt Wars?

For as long as anybody remembers, indians and Mexicans near the town of San Elizario, Texas had been openly sharing the salt from local mines. It was considered "communal property", sort of.

However, when the Anglos (and Capitalists) arrived in Texas in the early 1800's, they saw the real value of these mines.

Indians had never been really keen on fences, and in their minds, no one could own a rock, or a chunk of land, or a mountain for that matter. For these things belonged to all. The idea of a fence amazed them.

However, when the Anglos began to take "ownership" establish claims, fence off areas, and charge fees for the salt, the Mexicans and Indians revolted, and so began The San Elizario Salt War, The Salinero Revolt, or the El Paso Salt War, in 1866 which lasted for about 12 years.

The armed struggle between local politicians who were supported by none other than the Texas Rangers, and a few hundred Mexicans, climaxed in 1877 when the mines were seized, and 20 Texas Rangers surrendered.

But the victory for the Mexicans and Indians was short-lived. The arrival of the 9th U.S. Cavalry, and a Sheriff's posse from New Mexico reclaimed the mines, and Mexicans fled to Mexico, some never to return. About 20-30 men died in the conflict, numerous others were wounded, and the episode caused some $31,050 in property damage, big bucks in those days!

I read in Stockton's The Record the other day, another article concerning the dire water shortages in the San Joaquin Valley, the prolonged drought we are in, and the ever growing conflict between water conservationists and farmers whose crops rely on it.

I think most of us sympathize with the farmers' need for water and their oppositions to increasing water rationing by the powers that be. After all, farmers grow our food! I have done my small part by recyling dish and waste water for my plants, flushing less (no fun), and my lawn looks like crap from frequent watering.

You can imagine the shock I felt when I first visited my wife's home in Mexico City to discover that daily by 2-3 PM, they had no water in their faucets! Most houses and apartments had a Tinaco on the roof, a large tub of 100 gallons or so, which held the day's allotment.

Thus, the family rationed their water use, filling a extra buckets, especially for the toilet. You could hear the next day's ration trickling into the tinacos late at night in bed.

One local rancher, according to a recent article in The Record, angered by the whole idea of water rationing, claimed that the water from wells or aquifers directly underneath his acreage ought to belong solely to him to use when and how he wanted!

But wouldn't this be like me owning all the air and space directly above my property, straight up, all the way to the moon, to use when and as I see fit? Maybe I could shoot down all the birds that cross my space or even charge airplanes to fly through it?

We can imagine our underground wells and aquifers as deep, gigantic caverns extending for miles in all directions, brimming with water that took eons to fill. Yet, repeated warnings and recent scientific data shows we are depleting these aquifers at an alarming rate and irreplaceable rate.

According to The Record measurements taken from outer space show that the San Joaquin and Sacramento River basins up to six years ago "could almost fill the nation's largest reservoir, Lake Mead."

The most recent data, says the article, collected from 2003 to March 2009, shows this water has been nearly all sucked dry. By all of us.

But the earth is not warming either is it? Hope it rains. Hard.


#167 Dad said...

I enjoyed reading this historical account. I'm thinking the 9th Cavalry were known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

Rick Rivers said...

Yeah, and apparently they were black too. Texas and the Mexicans have a crazy history, like Juan Seguin and others.