Jalisco Communities, Environmental Groups Seek to Halt Construction of Dam near Guadalajara

Article excerpt

Three communities in Jalisco state, the environmental advocacy organization Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA), and other human rights advocates have joined forces to explore taking legal action to stop the Comision Nacional de Agua (CONAGUA) from constructing El Zapotillo Dam on the Rio Verde in Jalisco state. Authorities had planned two dams in the state, El Zapotillo and Arcediano, to supplement water supplies in Guadalajara and other nearby communities. Recently, construction of Arcediano was postponed indefinitely because of much higher-than-expected cost estimates, but work on El Zapotillo is expected to proceed unless CEMDA and other opponents succeed in blocking the project.

Project intends to ease water shortages in Guadalajara

El Zapotillo, which would have a capacity of more than 900 million cubic meters of water, is expected to provide water to Guadalajara, the Los Altos communities in Jalisco state, and the city of Leon in Guanajuato state. The project would require investments of about 5.3 billion pesos (US$406 million), with costs divided between the federal government and the private engineering companies that will construct the dam.

The bid was awarded to a consortium comprising Peninsular Compania Constructora, FFC Construccion, and Grupo Hermes.

Jose Luis Luege Tamargo, director of the Comision Nacional de Agua (CONAGUA), said El Zapotillo would go a long way toward easing a pending water shortage in Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city. Federal and state authorities estimate that Guadalajara's water supplies will last another three years if no new dams are constructed. The city relies heavily on water from nearby Lago Chapala, whose supplies at times have fallen to dangerous levels (see SourceMex, 2001-06-27 and 2003-10-22).

Although dams like El Zapotillo could ease a pending water shortage, opposition has arisen from environmental and human rights organizations and local residents, who argue that their positions are not being taken into account when these projects are planned. Three communities that would be displaced by El Zapotillo have formed the organization Comite Salvemos a Temacapulin, Acasico y Parmalejo to fight the project.

Residents of the three communities complain that they are being harassed by legislators from the governing Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) and CONAGUA to back off from opposing the project. "A spokesman for the organization identified PAN Deputy Jose Luis Iniguez as one of those who has warned [residents] that if they don't negotiate, they will lose their lands," said the Mexico City daily newspaper La Jornada.

Another major supporter of the dam is PAN Gov. Juan Manuel Oliva of Guanajuato because the water from the facility would benefit the industrial city of Leon.

Rather than succumb to the pressure, the organization has joined forces with environmental and land-rights advocates and indigenous-rights organizations like Colectivo COA to file legal action asking the courts to nullify the government decree granting concessions to private companies to construct the dam.

COA attorney Claudia Gomez said the coalition also plans to file a complaint against CONAGUA for failing to fully comply with the environmental code (Ley General de Equilibrio Ecologico y Proteccion Ambiental, LGEEPA), which requires an environmental-impact study (Manifestacion de Impacto Ambiental, MIA). CONAGUA did conduct an MIA, but later changed some of the dam's dimensions. COA said that, by making this change, CONAGUA was obligated to conduct a new MIA.

Project supporters accuse "outside interests" of inciting local residents. "If we examine the situation closely, you'll see that 90% of those opposing the project are people who have nothing to do with El Zapotillo," said Jorge Videgaray, president of the council of the Sistema de Agua Potable y Acantarillo de Leon (SAPAL).

Opponents bring fight to OAS human rights commission

The battle regarding El Zapotillo has repercussions beyond Mexican borders. …