Respect Sacred Waters: Save Oak Flat

A short film by Paper Rocket Productions documenting testimonials of the San Carlos Apache and their allies about the proposed mine at Oak Flat.

In the Southwest, water is a scarce resource. It is not hard to imagine why the people of the region would hold their water not just as essential, but as sacred. Since their internment onto reservations, indigenous nations of the Southwest have seen their water rights increasingly diminished as well as the poisoning of sacred lands and waters. The effects of climate change compound this situation, which stand to make water an even scarcer resource for the coming generations. This is a topic of vital importance in modern Southwestern environmental justice. As a minority, and often impoverished, population with a history of systematic oppression, Native Americans serve as a prime investigatory group for environmental justice. Native peoples in the Southwest have struggled for centuries with water rights, contamination, and access to sacred waters, and the case of the San Carlos Apache at Oak Flat is no different.

Across the entire United States, government and private industry has desecrated sacred waters. In the Southwest, most problems revolve around contamination from mines, contested water rights, as well as flooding of sacred places due to the West’s obsession with stockpiling water. Many environmental justice cases in the Southwest involve water, the most sacred resource in the region.

We grew up learning a tradition of respect for water, hearing our Elders praying with water. Water is a part of every second of our lives, everything has water flowing through it, everything has life.” –Crow leaders

Standing in solidarity with Oak Flat

In 2014, Senator John McCain (R, AZ) hid a land swap inside a 2,000-page military budget after it had failed to pass as a standalone bill multiple times. The tactic of hiding controversial deals in large, must-pass bills has been used for decades; when Congress passed the bill, the land swap was also approved. The deal traded 2,400 acres of Oak Flat, a federally owned portion of land, for 5,000 acres of land owned by mining company, Resolution Copper. At first glance, it seemed like a good idea: Arizona gained more than double the amount of conservation land they gave away. As in any controversial deal, however, it was not so simple.

Oak Flat Gaan Canyon

Oak Flat is a portion of the Tonto National Forest in Arizona that borders the San Carlos Apache Reservation. It is home to holy waters important in Apache religious ceremonies as well as historic sites and artifacts that are thousands of years old. It also sits on top of the largest copper ore deposit in North America. Senator McCain proposed the land swap so Resolution could mine the copper at Oak Flat.  The mining will cause an area of over a mile in diameter to sink 1,000 feet into the ground while covering even more land with rubble and waste. The mine will cause contamination of the local watershed, including polluting the entire aquifer located under the deposit. This would destroy the Apache’s sacred waters: waters on which they have subsisted and have used in religious practices for millennia.

Many people oppose this deal. In fact, it was struck down twice in Congress before McCain was able to sneak it into another bill. Besides Native Americans, the list of critics includes the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, many politicians, public lands workers and advocates, archaeologists, and even local miners! The main three concerns are that 1) it will destroy sacred Apache sites and artefacts, 2) it will damage the (once) public National Forest land and will contaminate the aquifer and surrounding watershed, and 3) it sets a dangerous legal precedent in which Congress can just give away public lands with little oversight. In addition, the deal included conditions to bypass important parts of the required environmental and cultural evaluations, making it seem impossible to stop the mine.

“If there’s one thing we do all have in common it’s that we respect the Earth, and we are all fighting for our land.” – Wendsler Nosie Sr., San Carlos Apache Tribal Councilman

San Carlos Apache and other Native Peoples protest the destruction of traditional sacred waters

The Apache and Native American rights groups are the strongest objectors of the Oak Flat deal. The San Carlos Apache consider this land holy and require its existence to practice certain aspects of their religion. They have occupied the lands for thousands of years, but since Oak Flat is just outside reservation boundaries, the Apache have no legal claim to the land. This is a type of legal battle Native tribes across the country have struggled with since the inception of the reservation system. In the 1800’s, the American government forcibly removed the native peoples to the San Carlos Reservation and forced them to sign a treaty relinquishing the land using military force. The Apache did not willingly give up their ancestral homeland, but are now constrained in protecting it by these unjust laws and treaties. These cases disproportionately affect Native Americans who have little economic or political clout due to systematic oppression that has been institutionalized since the first arrival of Europeans on American soil.

 “Would (you) have this same position if an ore body were to be located beneath (your) church … and a company wanted to bulldoze or destroy it?” Terry Rambler, Chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe

The United States Constitution guarantees the freedom to practice one’s religion. It also guarantees that no private property shall be taken for public use without just compensation. Furthermore, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that indigenous people should have rights to their traditional lands and resources, even if they are currently held by another party (in this case, the U.S. government). In the Garma International Indigenous Water Declaration, indigenous peoples, including Native Americans, assert that scared waters are an integral part of their physical, cultural, and spiritual existence and they have an inherent right to them. These rights have all been violated by the careless trading and disrespectful and destructive proposed use of Oak Flat.

The San Carlos Apache have been protesting this gross injustice against their lands and waters for the past two years. Currently, some small steps have been taken to stop Resolution Copper. The National Park Service placed Oak Flat on the National Register of Historic Places, which will make it harder, but not impossible, to start the mine. Senator Bernie Sanders (D, VT) also introduced a bill to Congress in 2015 to stop the swap, but it has not yet been addressed. The San Carlos Apache continue to try to protect their ancestral holy waters, but they need your help. Write a letter to your senators and tell them that both the environment and Native American rights should be respected and to #SaveOakFlat.

More Cases of Native American Water Injustice:

Years after mining stops, uranium’s legacy lingers on Native land

Rainbow Bridge, Utah – Tsé’naa Na’ní’áhí

Navajo water supply is more horrific than Flint, but no one cares because they’re Native American

What is the Dakota Access Pipeline?

Navajo Nation sues EPA over toxic mine spill

The Unfair Burden of Coal In Eagle Pass: An Environmental Justice Case Study of the Eagle Pass Mine


After initial permitting in 1994, an American company called Dos Republicas Coal Partnership hired Camino Real Fuels LLC to begin mining for coal in late 2015 in an overwhelmingly poor, Hispanic, and Native American community near the town of Eagle Pass in Texas.(1) The 2.7 million tons(2) of low-grade “bituminous” coal being mined every year is of such poor quality it is illegal to burn in the United States, so it is being sold to Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), a government-owned electricity provider. CFE burns the coal half an hour south of Eagle Pass in Nava, Mexico, at one of the two most polluting power plants in North America. The plant is close enough to the border that the air leaving the facility further pollutes Eagle Pass. The pollution from both the mine and the plant endangers the water and air quality of the region(3) and poses a threat to the hundred historical Native American sites belonging to the tribes in the area, which include Carrizo, Comanche, Coahuiltecan, Cherokee, Kickapoo, Xicano, Apache, and more.

Eagle Pass Mine is a textbook example of an environmental injustice; it is an extraction of a natural resource that disproportionately hurts minorities and the poor. More specifically, it affects the many tribes in the area more than anyone else, as it hurts their sacred connections with the land. There is no set definition of environmental justice. Texas is part of EPA’s Region Six, which has its own definition. This case study uses that definition to evaluate the environmental injustice of the Eagle Pass Mine by walking through the ways in which Executive Order 12898 was broken.

Executive Order 12898

In 1994 President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, which expressed the need for environmental justice. He ordered that each federal agency create a strategy to work towards environmental justice, following four specific guidelines:

1) To help promote health and environmental statutes already in place in disadvantaged areas.
2) To ensure community participation in decisions.
3) To conduct thorough research relating to the health and environmental impacts of minority and low-income populations.
4) To determine any disproportionality in which groups benefit from environmental developments, then outline steps to address disparity.
Initial permitting for this project took place in 1992, two years before this executive order. However, permits granted in 2006, 2011, and 2015 by the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the Texas Railroad Commission insufficiently addressed parts two, three, and four of this framework thus failing to fulfill President Bill Clinton’s executive order.

Public Participation

The Eagle Pass community is and was unanimously against the Eagle Pass Mine. 45% more residents signed a petition against the mine than the amount of residents who voted in the 2012 election.(4) Between 1994 and the mine’s first extraction in 2015, community members presented their opposition to the USACE(5), they fought permits in various courts(6), and finally, they resorted to peaceful protest.1024x1024

(Indigenous peoples and other community members opposed to the Eagle Pass Mine walk nine miles in protest. These photographs were taken by Kin Man Hui and posted on Express News.)

In a phone interview on November 11th, self proclaimed “American face” of Dos Republicas Rudy Rodriguez described his company’s community engagement, which included going to little league games. When asked how he took into account the needs of the indigenous peoples of Eagles Pass, he responded, “I helped the Kickapoo tribe… Twenty years ago one summer when they were out there working to push the Secretary of Interior for a casino that they have… That’s the tribe that’s there.” In reality, that is one of the over seven tribes that are there – none others of which he could name. He then asserted, “We respect everybody’s position in terms of freedom of speech and what not,” and went on to describe permitting that amounted to “ten to twelve feet high in paper.”(7)

Sufficient Environmental and Social Research

While describing environmental considerations and permits, Rodriguez used the phrase “above and beyond” five times. Though North American Coal Corporations did research on the health and environmental impacts of the coalmine, they did not perform it in regards to minority or low-income communities. When the EPA did their own analysis this year, they discovered that NA Coal’s research was insufficient and that in reality the Eagle Pass Mine is not up to environmental standards.(8) On top of the mine’s environmental degradation, the effects of the air pollution from the power plant just down the road in Mexico is still entirely unknown.

Disproportional Benefits and Burdens

The EPA, the TCEQ, and the USACE did no research on how this project might disproportionately harm or advantage groups of people. As a result, the Native American peoples of the Eagle Pass area are bearing a disproportionate amount of the burden for a project that does not benefit them.

Juan Mancias is an outspoken member of the Eagle Pass Corrizo Tribe. After coal mining commenced in Eagle Pass late last year, he publicly demanded answers to how such a clear injustice could continue. In a phone interview on November 3rd, 2016, he expressed his cultural qualms with the construction of the Eagle Pass Mine: “Our creator came to the Earth…” he explained, “She is our mother.” “There is a time people were hurting each other, becoming very greedy… She listened to the voices of the people who were hurting… We take care of the beauty she has created.” He said the site of the Eagle Pass Mine used to be one in which eagles and ravens would fly to express this beauty. “When they opened this mine up again, they let all these feelings back out.” Regardless of the health impacts, the implementation of the Eagle Pass Mine hurt the sacred connections that people like Mancias had with the area. When asked what other tribes were affected, he responded “All of them.”(9) The Eagle Pass mine is a clear environmental injustice to the many indigenous peoples of the Eagle Pass region.


Region Six of the EPA defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”  In the case of the Eagle Pass Mine, the indigenous peoples of Eagle Pass are burdened disproportionately by mining operations and were not given the opportunity to have meaningful involvement in the implementation process. This environmental injustice is a direct result of the approving government agencies of the mine including the TCEQ and the USACE, and their disregard for the steps set out in executive order 12898. The permitting process did not include public participation, adequate research on health and environmental concerns and their disproportionate affects, or proper analysis of whom the Eagle Pass Mine would benefit.  As a result, Native American peoples suffer from yet another form of cultural genocide and are at risk of a wide array of health risks

Sources and Further Information
1. “A Tale of Two Republics: Native Resistance to Coal Mining in Texas.” Equilibrio Norte. December 18, 2015. Accessed November 04, 2016.

2. Lobet, Ingrid. “In Texas, a Coal Mine Opens to Power Mexico.” Marketplace. August 25, 2015. Accessed November 04, 2016.

3. “Project Description.” Dos Republicas Coal Partnership. Accessed November 2, 2016.

4. Lobet, “In Texas, a Coal Mine Opens to Power Mexico.”

5. Https:// PhD diss., Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, 2015. State Bar of Texas.

6. Landa, Jose G. “City of Eagle Pass and Maverick County Party Status Challenged by Dos Republicas Coal Partnership.” Eagle Pass Business Journal. 2015. Accessed November 04, 2016.

7. Telephone interview by author. November 11, 2016.

8. United States of America. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Fort Worth District. Detailed Comments on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Final Environmental Impact Statement for Surface Coal and Lignite Regional Mining in Multiple Counties in Texas. By Darvin Messer. Fortworth, Texas, 2016.

9. Telephone interview by author. November 3, 2016.

Other Sources and Further Reading

Exec. Order No. 12898, 3 C.F.R. (1994).

Applicants Response to Hearing Request (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality 2011).

“Welcome to the Carrizo/Comcrudo Tribe of Texas.” Carrizo/Comcrudo Tribe of Texas. 2010.

Mancias, Juan, Jonathon Hook, and Angela Pitsai. Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas. Comment. Facebook, 2015.

Turrentine, Jeff. “Environmental Justice: One Texas Man’s Refinery Fight.” NRDC. August 26, 2016.

United States of America. Environmental Protection Agency. Region 6. Border 2020 Goals and Objectives.

United States of America. National Environmental Policy Act.

EDF Group’s Reply to Exceptions to the Proposal for the Decision (State Office of Administrative Hearings 2015).

Uranium Mining On Navajo Lands as a Violation of Tribal Sovereignty

When most people think of the Cold War they think of the conflict between the U.S and Russia and how a generation grew up in fear of nuclear war. However, the Cold War also significantly affected another group of people: The Navajo Nation. The Navajo suffered the negative impacts of uranium mining that was necessary to create nuclear bombs. The legacy of uranium mining on Navajo lands is a legacy of mistrust, exploitation, disease, and waste.ap105779489776_custom-5f8b50b562658f59d256675c5265381067e39f1c-s1500-c85

Starting in 1948, at the beginning of the cold war, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) said it would buy all uranium for a guaranteed price, which set off a uranium mining boom in the Southwest. Mines were operated by private companies, but sold only to the US government until 1971[1]. The negative environmental and health effects of uranium mining in the Southwest landed heavily on the Navajo people. Currently there are 521 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo land, one for every 52 square miles of the reservation[5]. In Environment and Society, Robbins, Hintz and Moore write that the Navajo reservation “offered up an opportunity for a high rate of labor exploitation and negligent environmental practices, an avenue that many capitalists (and bureaucrats) were content to travel”[7] .


The United States government violated the Navajo Nation’s tribal sovereignty by supporting private uranium mines on Navajo lands. This is argument is supported by two main points: 1) Navajo people were not given adequate education on the dangers of uranium mining in order to make informed decisions, and 2) the history of disenfranchisement of native peoples by the U.S. government made the Navajo vulnerable to economic exploitation.

seal1Native tribes are defined by the Supreme Court as “dependent sovereigns” because “their sovereignty predates that of the United States, but that it is nonetheless internal to, and dependent upon, the federal government[3]“. Sarah Krakoff defines environmental justice for tribes as “the achievement of tribal authority to control and improve the reservation environment,” making a respect for tribal sovereignty central to tribal EJ issues.

The Navajo Nation did have a role in choosing to have uranium mining on their land but were given little to no information on its health and environmental risks. This took away the tribes ability to make an informed choice. By the 1930s there was scientific evidence of a correlation between uranium exposure and high rates of lung cancer[1]. At the beginning of the mining boom, many Navajo workers did not speak English and lacked formal education, and there was little effort by mining companies to help educate workers across these boundaries. For example, after a 1950 Public Heath Service study on uranium, English pamphlets were given out to some miners on health risks without any translations or further explanation[1]. The U.S. government and private mining companies withheld information from Navajo miners and tribal leaders, which violated their ability to make independent decisions based on all available resources.

The Navajo people are vulnerable to economic exploitation because, since the lands they once used for subsistence living were taken away by the U.S., they are forced to depend on wage labor. Tribal councils can approve or deny mining leases, but mining is often one1406311648000-uranium01
of the only economic growth opportunities for tribes. In this way Navajo governments are basically forced into mining as a short-term solution for economic survival, which leads to disastrous long term health and economic impacts.

The U.S. government passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) in 1991 which uses the distributive justice method to give former uranium miners compensation. RECA falls short in real justice because it only addresses a small part of the problem. RECA applies only to miners who worked before 1971 and doesn’t apply to non-miners in the affected community. Non-miners in Navajo communities continue to suffer from uranium exposure due to abandoned mines and water contamination. It is also hard to compensate people with money for things that are difficult to quantify, like losing a family member. The social justice framework outlined by Gary Bryner in Justice and Natural Resources should be used because it aims to tackle the root of injustices, look at power dynamics and take into account cultural losses[2]. It asserts that every single Navajo citizen has the right to clean water, affordable and adequate healthcare and safe working conditions. Using this framework, the U.S. government’s approach could address all the impacts of uranium mining and treat it as current, pressing injustice to the Navajo people.

The Navajo are fighting back against the uranium industry. In 2005, the Navajo Nation banned uranium mining on their land in the Dine Natural Resources Protection Act[4]. The kids-protest-2-1act was passed in response to a push by the Bush administration to increase the use of nuclear power as a clean energy source. In 2013, the Navajo Nation Council voted to block Uranium Resources Inc. from building new mining projects on the reservation[6]. Now that the Navajo Nation has information on and experience with the health and environmental harms of uranium mining, they are rejecting it from their lands.

It is clear that the U.S. government and private mining companies exploited the Navajo people and violated their tribal sovereignty by failing to educate the Navajo on the risks of uranium mining and taking advantage of their vulnerable economic situation. Robbins, Hintz and Moore sum it up, writing: “The Navajo uranium era, as such, represents a classic and tragic case of environmental injustice – where unhealthful or dangerous conditions are disproportionately proximate to minority communities[7].”

Sources and Further Readings: 

  1. Brugge, Doug and Rob Golbe. “The History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 92, no. 9, 2002, pp. 1410-1419.
  2. Bryner, Gary C. “Assessing Claims of Environmental Justice: Conceptual Frameworks.” Justice and Natural Resources, edited by Mutz, Kathryn M., Gary C. Bryner and Douglas S. Kenney, Island Press, 2002, pp. 31-55.
  3. Krakoff, Sarah. “Tribal Sovereignty and Environmental Justice.” Justice and Natural Resources, edited by Mutz, Kathryn M., Gary C. Bryner and Douglas S. Kenney, Island Press, 2002, pp. 161- 183.
  4. LaDuke, Winona. “Navajos ban uranium mining.” Earth Island Journal, 2005.
  5. Loomis, Brandon. “Abandoned uranium mines continue to haunt Navajos on reservation.” The Arizona Republic.
  6. Minard, Anne. “Navajo Nation Slams Door on Deal That Would Have Allowed Uranium Mining.” Indian Country Today Media Network. August 1, 2014.
  7. Robbins, Paul, John Hintz and Sarah A. Moor. Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction, John Wiley & Sons, 2014.

Additional Video Resources: 

Photo Credit Links: 

Tucson Internation Airport

By Scott Broadbent

Water issues have recently emerged as a hotspot for environmental justice in Colorado for many reasons including the relative scarcity of water in the arid Southwest, the extremely complex system of water rights in the region, and the history of extractive industry (mining and fracking) polluting drinking water supplies, among others.  Drinking water is of serious concern to environmental justice because, especially in the southwestern United States, uncontaminated drinking water has become decreasingly available to low-income communities, minority communities, and tribes.  The plights of these communities are often ignored due to their lack of political power, their inability to represent themselves, and the absence of economic motivations to do so.  Here I will provide you with a case study in water contamination that demonstrates the complexity and injustice surrounding this issue.

Tucson, Arizona is a city with a large Hispanic and Latino population.  The most recent census data shows that more than one third of Tucson’s population is Hispanic or Latino.  The area surrounding the Tucson International Airport has especially high concentrations of Mexican-American families.  You can visualize this for yourself by going to and clicking around on the interactive map (TIA is located in South Tucson.)  Corporations and city officials capitalized on this fact to get away with dangerous and unlawful acts for decades.  Let’s cut to the chase.

In 1951, Hughes Aircraft (now owned by Raytheon) was contracted by the United States military to build missiles at a newly constructed plant on lands recently purchased from the Tucson Airport Authority.  The company used multiple toxic chemicals in their manufacturing process and throughout the years simply dumped those chemicals in dry streambeds (arroyos) and unlined holding ponds in the area surrounding TIA.  These toxins seeped into the ground and then into the groundwater, contaminating the local aquifer.  As if this unchecked environmental degradation were not horrible enough, these toxins began having deadly health effects on the people living around the airport.[i]

Trichloroethylene, or TCE as it is commonly abbreviated, was one of the major chemicals used at Hughes Aircraft.  It is now known that other parties were using TCE as well, including the Air National Guard and Tucson International Airport itself.  TCE is a volatile organic compound that has been shown to be correlated with neurological disorders, kidney failure, cardiac defects, oral clefts, fetal deaths, and cancer.  On Evelina Street in Tucson, less than one mile from the airport, 34 cancer cases have been documented to date[ii].  There are currently several families on Evelina Street with only one surviving member.  Residents of Southside Tucson had been complaining of chemical smells and tastes in their water for years before the EPA finally tested the water in the area of TIA and found it to be contaminated.[iii]



A map of Tucson indicating how the plume of TCE contamination was located in predominantly minority neighborhoods. (Source: De la Peña)


The official response to this contamination has been less than ideal.  In one instance, the Health Director of Pima County told an audience of mostly Hispanic people that the high rates of cancer and death in their neighborhood were because their diet was bad, they smoked, drank too much, and did not exercise enough.  In 1991 the City of Tucson government released a report declaring that “with minor exceptions, no remarkable hotspots were found… any efforts to convince scientists or others that further studies are in order must contend with this ADHS clean bill of health for the neighborhood.”[iv]  The report can be found here:

These examples demonstrated that not only were government officials aware of the problem, they were dedicated to sweeping it under the rug.  In 1987, 1600 residents of Southside Tucson sued Hughes Aircraft, the United States Air Force, and the City of Tucson for their personal injuries caused by water contamination.

Their case was fought through 15 years, two trials, three appeals, and two favorable decisions by the Arizona Supreme Court.  The case concluded in June 2006 after the city and Hughes Aircraft both settled with the residents, netting them over $130 million dollars.  This case is a powerful reflection of how the civil rights framework can be used in litigation to give power to the powerless.  To quote Richard Gonzales, one of the lead attorneys on the case, and a resident of Tucson –

“I remember growing up on the South Side.  We never had any political muscle and never exercised a voice in government.  There was an entrenched sense that the South Side was powerless to look out for their interests.”

Thanks to civil rights and environmental justice, the residents of South Side Tucson are powerless no more.

[i] Pinderhughes, Raquel. “The Impact of Race on Environmental Quality: An Empirical and Theoretical Discussion.” Sociological Perspectives 39.2 (1996): 231-48. Web.

[ii] EPA. TCE Contamination, Exposure, and Cleanup, Tucson, AZ



De La Peña, Nonny. “Fighting for the Environment.” Hispanic (1991): 18-13.



The Concrete Lining of the All-American Canal


By Zach Holman

The United States federal government has been notorious for committing environmental injustices within the border of the country since its inception. By lining the All-American Canal (AAC) the U.S. pushed an injustice across their southern border to the Mexicali region in Mexico. In 2009 Parsons Corporation — commissioned by the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) — completed the concreted lining of the All-American Canal. They only lined a 23-mile section of the 82-mile long canal that is fed from the Colorado River starting in Yuma, Arizona. It was highly contested by many groups. The canal was an important water source for the people of the Mexicali Region in Mexico who live just south of the U.S. border where the canal runs. A coalition formed between a few groups and sued the U.S. federal government in hopes of stopping the construction. The groups were the Mexican government, two U.S. environmental groups and the town of Calexico.3

The lining of the AAC was contested because when it was completed in the 1942 it was not lined and therefore over 67,700 acre-feet were lost to seepage each year. This may sound like a bad thing and that the U.S. should have lined it immediately with concrete to fix this, but the seepage became necessary to the Mexicali region. The seepage ran underground and recharged aquifers across the border. The Mexicali citizens used this water to fuel an agricultural industry and supply the people with drinking water.3 They had been using this water since the original canal was constructed. So, when the U.S. announced they would line a 23-mile long section the Mexicali people were outraged. “We were using this water for over 100 years and we developed the economy that depends on the seepage,” Rene Acuna, a Mexicali civic leader, explains.2

As the definition that this blog uses for environmental justice describes that the injustice must fall upon disempowered people, the Mexicali and Calexico citizens fall under this category. The Mexicali people are far more impoverished than the citizens of  San Diego County (where the water was diverted to) and they do not have the ability to fight adequately to prevent the injustice. Calexico is a town in California on the border that relied on business from Mexicali for its entire economy.4 It was a crucial shopping center for the Mexicali people.2 The Calexico citizens realized if the AAC was lined that the Mexicali economy would collapse and therefore people could not shop in Calexico. The people of Calexico are mostly Hispanic and impoverished. This qualifies them under the umbrella of environmental justice due to an action by the federal government. These two groups of people, the Mexicali and Calexico citizens, filed a lawsuit along with two environmental groups against the U.S. government and the case was heard in the Ninth District court.

The case was based on a few injustices. The first, argued by the environmental groups, was that wetlands would dry up and these wetlands were necessary for certain migratory birds. There is a U.S. law that states that if development is going to occur that harms habitats a full review must first take place. The required review did not happen. The second basis for the case was that there is a 1973 treaty that is part of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) between the U.S and Mexico that states if one of the countries is going to do development on surface or ground water the other country must be adequately consulted first. The Mexicali government, along with Calexico, said that the U.S. government did not adequately fulfill this agreement. The U.S only allegedly paid lip service to the Mexicali government.5

This obviously does not sound like anything new in U.S. history. A treaty is agreed upon and then is never held up by the U.S. It is a sad truth, but happens all, and I mean all, the time. The Ninth district court ruled in favor of the U.S. and as stated earlier awarded Parsons Corporation the contract and gave the go-ahead on the project.1

The lining is clearly an environmental justice issue. The people who were affected most are disempowered populations that do not have options for fixing the problem. They cannot just find a new water source and the water that remains in the aquifer is becoming dangerously salinized as there is not a constant source of fresh water to dilute it. In the framework of environmental justice, reparations should be made toward the Mexicali and Calexico people. What remedy would be just, though? Is money enough to offset a lack of water? These questions need to be asked by the U.S. government; the only problem is the court did not rule that the U.S had any responsibility to the groups affected. This means those questions were not asked and the people were left high and dry, most literally.


All-American Canal, US-Mexico Border , Environmental Justice, Calexico, Mexicali, Colorado River, USBR, Water


  1. “All-American Canal.” All-American Canal. Parsons, 2008. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
  1. Boxall, Bettina. “Suit Is Filed Over Plan to Line Canal.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 20 July 2005. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.
  1. Cortez-Lara, Alfonso, and Maria Rosa Garcia-Acevedo. “The Lining of the All-American Canal: The Forgotten Voices.” Natural Resources Journal40, no. 2 (March 15, 2000): 261. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed October 26, 2016).
  1. Cortez Lara, Alfonso A., Megan K. Donovan, and Scott Whiteford. “The All-American Canal Lining Dispute: An American Resolution over Mexican Groundwater Rights?.” Frontera Norte21, no. 41 (January 2009): 127-150. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed October 26, 2016).
  1. Ries, Nicole. “The (Almost) Ail-American Canal: Consejo de Desarrollo Economico de Mexicali v. United States and the Pursuit of Environmental Justice in Transboundary Resource Management.” Ecology Law Quarterly35, no. 3 (August 2008): 491-529. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed October 26, 2016).
  2. Perry, Tony. “Officials Hail $300-million Project to Line Leaky All-American Canal.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 1 May 2009. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.