Sometimes it pays to get an overview of a conflictual situation in order to put it into perspective and to seek more enduring solutions.
In the case of the controversy about Latin American migration to the US Southwest, such a vexing matter requires an overview that is way over, that is, from outer space. As a planner, I’m used to asking, “How is a given problem reflected in physical, spatial, or geospatial terms?”
Please study the 2001 satellite images contained in the following two links from NASA, and also carefully read NASA’s accompanying commentary–
Colorado River Delta; Source: NASA, 2001
Please note the statement from the NASA website: “The bluish purple river that appears to be flowing from the Gulf of California to the north is actually an inlet that formed in the bed of the Colorado River after it receded.”
Now, were a neighboring country today to propose to consume about 90% (the 2001 number) of the water from a major river before the river passed into a second country which at one time contained an ecologically rich and thriving delta for that river, such a proposal would be rejected both by the second country and by the international community.
But such consumption of the vast majority of the water from the Colorado River by the US prior to its reaching Mexico is a historic fact of now almost a century in duration.
Imagine how thriving a geographic area in Mexico might the Colorado River delta be were a much greater portion of the river to flow through it once more.
Vast migrations of human populations are caused by proportionately-sized changes in human welfare of regional or international scope. Put simply, big migrations are due to big reasons.
Yes, US jobs are an attractive magnet for migration. True, drug wars in Latin America are a repulsive magnet driving human flight. But in a very fundamental sense, the retention of water by the US Southwest–and the lack of it in sections of Mexico–are both much more primordial drivers–having global power and scope–of human movement. Put simply, human populations “follow the water.” Put simply, economic development is impossible without it.
Until more water goes to Mexico, there will not be a long-term solution to the problem of Latin American migration to the US Southwest. Water must be part of any such solution.
Making water more abundant in the Southwest is one of the Holy Grails of civil engineering. Finding such an engineering solution would be an historic humanitarian contribution. The prospects for a political solution are bleak indeed.
Further background on the ecology of the Colorado River and its delta is at–
Some of the engineering history of the Colorado River, along with an account of an early 20th Century water engineering disaster including the Colorado River, is at–
A scientific paper on the Colorado Delta from 2006–
© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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