Sonora: mining threatens disappearing waters

Authorities on Aug. 10 imposed restrictions on the water supply to seven municipalities in northwest Mexico's Sonora state, after 40,000 cubic meters (10 million gallons) of toxic leached copper from the Buenavista del Cobre mine turned the Río Bacanuchi orange, killing fish and livestock. Among the towns cut off by order of the National Water Commission (Conagua) is the state capital, Hermosillo, home to nearly 800,000 people. The Bacanuchi is a tributary of the Río Sonora, the state's principal river. Sonora state civil defense director Carlos Arias accused mine owner Grupo México of not reporting the spill in a timely manner.

Sonora state, which accounts for 27% of all Mexican mining, is the country's leading producer of gold, copper, graphite and a number of other mineral products. In August of last year, a trailer-truck carrying cyanide for Sonora's Canadian-owned Mulatos gold and sliver mine overturned, contaminating the Río Yaqui. The disaster caused a shortage of drinking water, human illness, and the death of birds and other wildlife. (AP, DW, Aug. 12; AFP, Aug. 11; El Diario de Sonora, Aug. 10; Excelsior, Aug. 27, 2013)

Representatives of the Yaqui indigenous people meanwhile demanded a halt to the operation of the Independence Aqueduct, saying in a meeting with senators in Mexico City that it will leave their communities without water. The 152-kilometer aqueduct was built at a cost of 4 billion pesos (some $300 million) to transport 75 million cubic meters of water annually from the Río Yaqui to the manufacturing hub of Hermosillo. "Yaqui elders, men, women, youth and children have come to this city to make ourselves heard because we’re sure that what’s happening on our land is a violation of our rights," said Yaqui spokesman Tomas Rojo. Rojo accused Sonora's Gov. Guillermo Padres Elías (PAN) of continuing "with his crassness of taking our water away with projects like the Independence Aqueduct."

In a ruling last year, Mexico's Supreme Court ordered Sonora to halt the aqueduct, which begin operating in April 2013, if studies showed it would cause "irreparable harm" to the Yaqui community. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on last week asked Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration for a report on measures to ensure the aqueduct does not violate the rights of the Yaqui people. Yaqui activist Mario Luna remains on the run from Sonora state authorities, wanted for "privation of liberty" in connection with protests against the aqueduct. Yaqui leaders say the charge is trumped up, and that he only engaged in peaceful protest. (LAHT, Aug. 9;, Aug. 7)

  1. Sonora: Yaqui leader imprisoned

    Yaqui traditional leader Mario Luna Romero was detained in the village of Vicam and incarcerated in a Hermosillo federal penitentiary after returning to Sonora from a visit across the border state to Arizona. He was brought to hearing Sept. 17, exactly one month after members and supporters of the Yoeme water rights struggle caravanned to the community of San Salvador Atenco outside Mexico City to participate in the National Gathering in Defense of the Land, Water and Life. (Americas Program via UDW, Sept. 23))