Theses Bachelor's

Salinity Crisis in the Borderlands: The Mexicali Campesino's Fight for Colorado River Water in the Delta, 1961-1973

Gottlieb, Jillian Gordon

The topic of this thesis is the Salinity Crisis, a diplomatic imbroglio over the water of the Colorado River that dominated international relations between the United States and Mexico from 1961 to 1973. In the early 1960s, agriculturalists in the Yuma Valley, Arizona began disposing of their wastewaters downstream. These wastewaters, which came from highly saline underground aquifers, polluted the Colorado River water destined for Mexican users. Mexico receives 1.5 MAFY (million-acre-feet-per-year) of Colorado River water from the United States as dictated by the 1944 Mexican Water Treaty and most of this water allotment goes directly to the Mexicali Valley in Baja California. The economy of the Mexicali Valley during the 1960s and 70s was agricultural where almost all farms grew cotton and some grew wheat. When the wastewaters reached the Mexicali Valley, the crops of the valley began to die. What resulted was a catastrophe for the region's economy and a disaster for international diplomacy between the two nations for little over a decade. A permanent solution was reached in 1973 with Minute 242. Most historians have focused solely on the diplomacy of the Salinity Crisis. This work will connect the negotiations between high-ranking officials on both sides of the border to the grassroots movements of Mexicali Valley campesinos or peasant farmers, those directly affected by the crisis. In doing so, this thesis aims to clarify the immediate significance of the Salinity Crisis as well as situate this moment within global events, demonstrating its broader legacy. This work argues that Mexicali campesinos, through visible protest and engagement of the Mexican and U.S. governments in the debate over salinity, forced the initiation of the serious diplomatic exchange necessary to resolve the crisis. Mexicali campesinos, a historically disadvantaged population, successfully changed the course of U.S.-Mexico relations in the 1960s-70s, becoming the focal point of diplomacy between the nations at the height of the Cold War and ultimately enhancing Mexican water rights to the Colorado River.

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Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Piccato, Pablo A.
Blackmar, Elizabeth S.
B.A., Columbia University
Published Here
May 9, 2012