Water wars: All-American Canal

The loss of water in unlined canals is considered a disgrace (and opportunity) in Australia. So when I read about the lining of the All-American Canal I thought “good on yuh”. I still think that is correct, but for the Imperial Valley it is not as simple as I thought. For one thing, there are a lot of farmers who have benefited from the seepage into the water table.

“It was really tough. In the water world, nobody trusts anybody. Every time you try to work with anything in the water world, it’s five times harder,” said former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, a Los Angeles Democrat who helped negotiate the funding package.

The fight shifted to the courts, involving tiny Calexico and the mighty U.S. Congress. Calexico joined environmental and economic interests on both sides of the border in suing to block the lining. Pressured by powerful water interests and the Bush administration, Congress intervened to put an end to litigation by approving a last-minute rider to a tax bill ordering completion “without delay.”

More than two years later, there is still fear on the Mexico side, where much of the produce grown is exported to the United States.

“I felt like the water was mine,” said Geronimo Hernandez, whose 370-acre family farm is near the Algodones border crossing.

In the 1940s, Hernandez’s father, Miguel, had watched helplessly as his fields were flooded by seepage from the All-American Canal. As a remedy, the Mexican government built the La Mesa Drain, which to this day allows Hernandez and his neighbors to irrigate their crops. They are painfully aware that this supply will soon vanish.

“This will affect everybody,” said Alfonso Cortez Lara, a Mexicali-based researcher for a Tijuana think tank. He estimates the annual water loss could be equivalent to the yearly domestic consumption of Mexicali, with a population of nearly 1 million.