Mexico Threatens to Dam a River of Life

San Pedro Mezquital river

San Pedro Mezquital is the only hydropower-free river in the Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental. Credit: Gustavo D. Danemann.

Every June 24, the Cora indigenous community celebrates the Day of San Juan. Gathering on the banks of a full-flowing river in western Mexico, they swap figures of the saint and offer him flowers in exchange for food, health, work and other favors.

They also pay respect to San Pedro Mezquital, a river that is critical to their culture, livelihoods and spirituality.

San Pedro Mezquital is the only dam-free river left in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains where the Cora live. Starting in Durango, the river flows freely to the Pacific Ocean, where it feeds the Marismas Nacionales, a wetland of international importance and home to 20% of Mexico’s mangroves.

But the river could be destroyed. Mexico’s state power company, the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE), wants to dam the San Pedro Mezquital to produce electricity, a project that would harm the environment and the human rights of indigenous people in the area, including the Cora.

AIDA wants to stop this. We are working with local organizations and scientists to prepare a legal case based on environmental and human rights arguments. The aim is to deter the Mexican government from approving the environmental impact assessment (EIA) that would allow the CFE to start building the Las Cruces hydropower project. We have also launched a national campaign to raise awareness on why Las Cruces should never be built, with a website (in Spanish) focused exclusively on the issue.

Arguments Against Las Cruces Dam

Here are a few of the arguments against Las Cruces:

  • Blocking the natural flow of the river will increase sedimentation and damage the mangroves of Marismas Nacionales.
  • The project’s EIA fails to evaluate the cumulative environmental impacts and doesn’t use the best available scientific information.
  • Construction of the dam will forcibly displace people and communities, possibly without compensation. The latter is not mentioned in the EIA.
  • Indigenous peoples were not consulted on the feasibility studies of the project or its construction.
  • Reduced river flow will affect the daily activities (agriculture, livestock, fishing, oysters, etc.) that provide food and work for the surrounding communities.
  • Ceremonial locations will be flooded, destroying significant aspects of the spiritual life and ancient cultures of the natives in the area.

On any given day, Coras and other local people jump into the San Pedro Mezquital for a swim in waters that provide a refreshing break – and their livelihoods.

With your help, we can keep this and other rivers from getting destroyed by large dams like Las Cruces!

Thank you!

About the Author

AIDA Staff


Founded in 1998, AIDA is a nonprofit environmental law organization that works across international borders to defend threatened ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them. 

Any opinions expressed in this blog are the authors’ own and may not be shared by the organization. AIDA includes them with full respect for the freedom of expression and plurality of our team of professionals.

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