A district court in western Mexico has suspended the federal government’s controversial plans to flood the town of Temacapulín by raising the height of a nearby dam.
The August 14 ruling prohibited Mexico’s National Water Commission (Conagua) from raising the Zapotillo dam from 80 to 105 meters because this would leave Temacapulín and the smaller villages of Palmarejo and Acasic beneath the banks of the Rio Verde.
Conagua has vowed to respect the ruling but said it remains confident that any legal obstacles will be overcome and that the dam will still be built to the original specification of 105 meters.
Raising the dam to this height would create a reservoir of 900 million cubic meters. Around 80 percent of this water would be used to supply the nearby city of León, with the remainder split between Guadalajara and the Los Altos de Jalisco farming region.
Located in the western state of Jalisco, Temacapulín is home to around 500 inhabitants, many of them indigenous Mexicans.
In order to press ahead with the project, the federal government wants to relocate displaced residents to Nuevo Temacapulín, a new settlement where it has built more than 30 homes.
But the government plans have been met with fierce resistance. Many locals have complained that their human rights are being violated because they are being forced to leave their homes and lose their jobs.
“We’re not moving from here. If the water arrives we know how to swim. This is our stance: we will never sell and we don’t want to be relocated, whatever happens,” one Temacapulín resident told Spanish news agency EFE last month.
Conagua claims that 80 percent of Temacapulín residents have now agreed to be relocated or compensated, but others have complained that the new homes are smaller, lack basic services and are located in land unsuitable for traditional activities such as beekeeping and grazing cattle.
In addition to organizing demonstrations, local community members have also filed numerous legal challenges against the government plans.
The latest district court ruling was the third in favor of Temacapulín residents this year. Mexico’s Supreme Court also ruled against the government plans in 2012 and 2013.
However, after the penultimate district court ruling in July, the Guadalajara Reporter newspaper noted that “most legal experts consider the latest hurdle will again be overcome and that work on the dam will proceed and be completed as per its original design.”
Jalisco Governor Aristóteles Sandoval of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had vowed to save Temacapulín while campaigning in 2012, but within two weeks of assuming office in March 2013 he abandoned his pledge, claiming that he had no say because this was a federal government matter.
Dr. Raúl Pacheco-Vega, an expert in water policy and assistant professor at Mexico’s CIDE university, described the government’s handling of the issue as “extremely frustrating.”
“People from Temacapulin are refusing to be flooded, but the Mexican government is saying ‘no, you will be flooded and we’re going to build this dam at a certain height,’” Pacheco-Vega told Latin Correspondent. “What that reveals is a lot of negligence, a lot of misinformation, a lot of disinterest for the people and more interest in profit and providing water to a city (León) that is already extremely water intensive.”
In November 2012, the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT), an international ethical tribunal, visited Temacapulín and declared that the federal and state governments had violated several international treaties and the Mexican constitution in their handling of the project.
“It is a gross misrepresentation of the right to water to violate the rights of some communities to supply water to others … it is the local people, especially indigenous people, who protect the water and know how to do this,” PPT jury member Maude Barlow wrote on her blog.
Instead of flooding these communities to ensure a water supply for nearby cities, Barlow called on the authorities to “find this water through conservation, rainwater harvesting, pollution control and protection of source water, and investing in new pipes and infrastructure.”