World Rivers Day 2013 for the Rio San Rodrigo, Coahuila, Mexico


World Rivers Day 2013 for the Rio San Rodrigo, Coahuila, Mexico

Since coming together in May 2009 to create the Amigos del Río San Rodrigo NGO, we have made it our mission to inform environmental authorities, corporate leaders and society in general about the destruction wrecked on their ecosystem on account of an untenable use of its natural resources. We also demand that Mexican environmental authorities enforce compliance with existing environmental legislation, in order to preserve our natural resources and to ensure that those responsible for the damage assume the responsibility of its restoration.

For these reasons and on account of the celebration of World Rivers Day last Sunday of September, we'd like to dive into the causes that drove us to create our organization, because the factors that impact the San Rodrigo river have not lessened; they have in fact, worsened over time, and destruction of the entire riparian ecosystem is now quite extensive, aided mainly by the indolence of Mexican environmental authorities.

A brief summary of two fundamental factors that affect the river, and the consequences of its destruction. These problems are common to all rivers in Coahuila, Mexico.

Mining: Consists in the extraction and processing of stone materials used in the urban and road construction industry. Both extraction and processing are done operating heavy machinery and material mills on the river's bed, banks and floodplain which has completely changed river morphology, destroying all riparian vegetation and killing or displacing aquatic and terrestrial fauna dependant on it. In short, all ecosystemic services provided by this channel have been lost.

Damming: The other factor impacting the river is the way water is managed through the La Fragua dam. Downstream from the dam the river's runoff patterns have been completely altered, as they are entirely governed by the agricultural cycles of irrigated areas all along the channel. Furthermore, San Rodrigo's course has been completely changed to redirect the liquid to irrigation canals 15 kilometers before the confluence with the  Rio Grande/Bravo river, completely depriving adjacent populations and ranches, as well as the ecosystem, of any water from the river.

All of the above violates several provisions in Mexican environmental law, such as:

National Water Law (LAN). Article 113a, sections I, II, III, V, VI, IX and X [1]

General Law of Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection (LGEEPA). Chapter 3: Environmental Policy, Article 15 Fractions I to XVI, and Fraction XVII guarantees no detrimental effects to the ecological equilibrium of other countries as a direct consequence of activities carried out inside Mexican borders [2]

National Development Plan 2013-2018 (PND 2013-2018). A Government plan that seeks to promote and direct growth to preserve natural heritage: Strategies 4.4.1., 4.4.2., 4.4.3. and 4.4.4. [3]

1944 Water Treaty. The destruction of the San Rodrigo river ecosystem by mining and the water management policies described above, also affects various treaties between Mexico and the United States of America, as is the case with the 1944 Water Treaty in which a third of San Rodrigo's water is assigned to that country and two thirds to Mexico per Article [4]

Environmental Program Mexico-US. Its mission is to protect the environment and public health in a strip of 100 kilometers along the Mexico/USA border region in accordance with the principles of sustainable development [5]

From our point of view, federal environmental authorities have not acted to stop the destructive activities that generate such high environmental costs nor have they forced offenders to take responsibility for the damage caused, even though the crimes are well defined in the Federal Criminal Code (Title Twenty-fifth: Crimes Against the Environment and Environmental Management [6].

Considering the severity and irreversibility of the damage already done to the river's ecosystem, we have almost reached a point of no return. Therefore, it is necessary to take actions such as the following as soon as possible:

Relocate all mining activities to the surrounding ridges, as a great percentage of them is formed by sedimentary materials that can satisfy construction industry requirements, without damaging riparian ecosystems valuable for the environmental services they provide.

A constant water flow along the entire channel must be provided all year long to guarantee gradual recovery as well as the sustaining of biodiversity and society along the channel, taking care to ensure the efficient use of irrigation waters and compliance with  the 1944 Water Treaty between Mexico and the US.

Coahuila's river's health must be documented and new laws must be passed that guarantee their physical and chemical stability, ecological continuity and hydro-morphological integrity.

The San Rodrigo river basin must be declared a protected zone in restoration as per Article 78 of the General Law of Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection on account of  the ecological imbalance prevalent in the river, allowing the reappearance of conditions crucial to the evolution and continuity of its natural processes.