Monumentalizing Water in the 21st Century–Northwest Mexico

This mural, created by R.V. Payán, adorns the north wall of the Mayo Valley Water Users Association building, in Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico. It contains a good deal of symbolism that resonates with regional and national history, and is in Mexico’s tradition of populist muralism that followed the 1910 Revolution. Water is portrayed as a connection, a link between diverse geographies, and as a substance whose management requires cooperation among a variety of social groups. Some of these groups are represented by the different people forming a kind of bucket-line relay, moving water from one place to the next using their cupped hands. In the center of the line are, on the left, a representative of Mexico’s National Water Commission (Conagua), and, on the right, someone from the Water Users Association. Digging a little deeper into regional water politics, however, disturbs somewhat the harmonious picture of water management presented here. If you follow the different images in this post from top to bottom (on the mural, more or less the equivalent of moving left to right), you will see several earth movers in action. They are building a second dam and reservoir on the Mayo River, upstream from the original dam, built in the 1950s. The proposed new dam would displace several Guarijío indigenous communities upstream and has therefore been a source of controversy and struggle over the past three years. For more information, consult the Water User Association website and the Chiltepines blog. (Mural photographs taken by Jeffrey M. Banister, April 2014).

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What are these things anyway?

These are breathers, or ventilation chimneys — sometimes even called  “burpers” —  that are installed at regular intervals along the approximately 30 kilometer aqueduct built around the turn of the last century to bring potable water from Xochimilco to Mexico City (for more about this, click on Our Water Project in the nav bar). These aren’t unique to the Xochimilco network, of course.  New Yorkers also will find them along the Croton Aqueduct, for example. They allow air to be released from the subterranean pipes carrying water from its source (springs, reservoirs, etc.) to water distribution sites and ultimately to its users. They create a kind of water-engineering landscape.

They are pretty weird looking though. The jaunty fellow in the black and white photo below looks like he’s standing next to some forlorn column from a ruined temple. (This photo is from a 1910 publication on Xochimilco water network.) Imagine bumping into one today in the middle of the lovely Condesa neighborhood in Mexico City. How many people do you think even know what that is? The little sign on it just tells you not to mark it up, but not what it is! Interesting that these commemorate a water network that didn’t survive for very long…

Put this on your to do list: Look around your own neighborhood for signs of the history of the water you drink. agtbYuHam3irjngQKovE6ms_FJm60AyPULV-fPVBTRIyzfL_rve9krwU0pdYLUY6IwFvC-klHXGfVdwCTjAX5w