February 17, 2023
The international boundary between the United States and Mexico spans more than 1,900 miles. Along much of this international border, water is what separates one country from the other. Border Wate The Politics of U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Water Management, 1945–2015 by Stephen Paul Mumme provides a historical account of the development of governance related to transboundary and border water resources between the United States and Mexico in the last seventy years.
This work examines the phases and pivot points in the development of U.S.-Mexico border water resources and reviews the theoretical approaches and explanation that impart a better understanding of these events. Mumme, a leading expert in water policy and border studies, describes three important periods in the chronology of transboundary water management. First, Mumme examines the 1944 Water Treaty, the establishment of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) in 1945, and early transborder politics between the two governments. Next, he describes the early 1970s and the rise of environmentalism. In this period, pollution and salinization of the Colorado River Delta come into focus. Mumme shows how new actors, now including environmentalists and municipalities, broadened and strengthened the treaty’s applications in transboundary water management. The third period of transborder interaction described covers the opening and restricting of borders due to NAFTA and then 9/11.
Border Water places transboundary water management in the frame of the larger binational relationship, offering a comprehensive history of transnational water management between the United States and Mexico. As we move into the next century of transnational water management, this important work offers critical insights into lessons learned and charts a path for the future. Below read an excerpt from the book.
Anyone interested in U.S.-Mexico water politics should trace the 1,954-mile international boundary on Google Earth. The observer is immediately struck by the way water literally delineates the boundary in so many places. And not just the 1,200 miles along the Rio Grande from El Paso–Ciudad Juárez to Brownsville-Matamoros and the 24-mile strip between the northerly and southerly international boundaries along the Colorado River. Along the land boundary, the hydraulic divide is evident in many locations, particularly where the boundary bisects sister cities, revealing the vivid contrast of a verdant north juxtaposed against a barren south. It is, in fact, along this 700- mile land boundary where the knowledgeable viewer observes which country prevailed in the allocation of the waters of the upper Rio Grande and the Colorado River, a potent reminder of the historic asymmetry of political and economic power that often influenced and continues to influence decisions affecting the use and management of water resources in the border region.
An accounting of how this hydraulic boundary came to be, how it has been developed, and how it is managed today is partially revealed in several outstanding histories and analyses of water development and politics in the American Southwest. These studies range from various accounts of the Mexican-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, to the exceptional scholarship on riparian development in the western United States by historians Paul Horgan (1984), Norris Hundley (1966), Frank Waters (1946), Evan Ward (2003), Donald Worster (1985), and Donald Pisani (1992), by diplomat Charles Timm (1941), and by journalists Philip Fradkin Introduction (1981) and Marc Reisner (1986), and to the scholarship on Mexican water development by Adolfo Orive Alba (1970) and Ernesto Enríquez Coyro (1976) and, recently, to a most welcome contribution by Marco Samaniego López (2006). Other more focused or more faceted studies by government officials and diplomats, legal specialists, engineers and hydrologists, ecologists, and social scientists flesh out a picture of binational and regional water politics and institutional development that is essential for comprehending the economic and hydraulic issues in play, the legal frames of the governmental actors in binational water relations, the development of national and international institutions engaged in conflict and cooperation on shared waters, and the political calculus of key governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders in transboundary water management. And yet, as rich and informative as these various works are, and taking into account a trove of scholarly and popular essays related to the topic, the reader is hard pressed to find within a single volume an account of the diplomacy and governance of water along the U.S.-Mexico border between 1945 and the present day.
This study aims to correct this deficiency. Its purpose is to provide a historical account of the development of governance related to transboundary and border water resources after 1945. As a longtime observer of U.S.- Mexico water and environmental relations, however, the author would be remiss in failing to take this opportunity to comment on certain themes in these relations, themes of particular resonance to scholars interested in understanding and strengthening a binational relationship that is today among the most important to which either country is a party. These themes, the manner in which transboundary water management is affected by the larger bilateral relationship, the problems of economic asymmetry and equity and their effect on binational water diplomacy, and the resilience of the binational treaty regime as it affects the sustainable management of shared water resources, are issues that most scholars tackling contemporary problems of binational water management confront directly or indirectly in their work. They are inescapable.