Constructing a river, building a border: An environmental history of irrigation, water law, state formation, and the Rio Grande rectification project in the El Paso/Juarez Valley

Joanne Tortorete Kropp, University of Texas at El Paso

Abstract

The Rio Grande in the El Paso, Texas, U.S./Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, Valley has a long history of human use from prehistoric to modern times. Formal irrigation began in the 1600s, mainly for viticulture, changing to cotton and pecans in the 1900s. The Rio Grande was subject to bed shifting and flooding that, after 1848, affected the location of the international boundary. During the Great Depression the U.S. and Mexican governments sponsored conservation projects to provide jobs and increase agricultural production. The 1933 “Convention - Rectification of the Rio Grande” was the culmination of interstate and bi-national agreements to divide Rio Grande water between the U.S. and Mexico and prevent flooding in the valley. The Civilian Conservation Corps assisted with flood control and soil conservation work as part of the project, and symbolizes how conservation in the 1930s melded environmentalism, nationalism, and prevalent ideas about masculinity. Rectification permanently established the U.S.–Mexico border in the valley, improved irrigation and flood control, and increased agricultural acreage along the river, but led to soil salinity, water pollution, and strained a dwindling water supply. The Rio Grande Rectification Project was a rare instance of bi-national cooperation in an otherwise acrimonious relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. The environmental impact of the project led to further bi-national collaboration on environmental sustainability and infrastructure in the late twentieth century that continues today.^

Subject Area

Ecology|Latin American history|American history|Law

Recommended Citation

Kropp, Joanne Tortorete, "Constructing a river, building a border: An environmental history of irrigation, water law, state formation, and the Rio Grande rectification project in the El Paso/Juarez Valley" (2016). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10249265.
http://digitalcommons.utep.edu/dissertations/AAI10249265

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