HotSpots H2O: Public to Decide Fate of Contested Brewery in Northern Mexico

Mexicali, Mexico, and Calexico, California, U.S., as viewed from Hodoyoshi-1 satellite. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The future of a controversial brewery in northern Mexico will be determined by the public, according to statements from Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. 

The $1.5 billion brewery, which is being built by the U.S.-based Constellation Brands in the border city of Mexicali, is a target of locals and environmental groups, who are alarmed about groundwater depletion in an arid region where water supplies are already stressed. 

López Obrador has now put the fate of the brewery into the hands of citizens. He said last week that the country’s environment ministry has approved a public “consultation” over the brewery, although no details of how the consultation will be organized have been announced. 

“People say: ‘it will set a bad precedent if there’s a consultation, because it will impact investment.’ No, the bad precedent was already set when, without taking people into account, they gave out the permits,” López Obrador said during the announcement. 

Constellation, producer of Corona, Modelo, and other beers, proposed the plant in January 2016, estimating that construction would take four to five years. The state government of Baja California approved the brewery without seeking input from residents. 

Constellation estimates that the operation will require 1.8 billions gallons of water, pumped from wells, each year in an area where many households frequently go without running water. 

In response to the president’s decree, Constellation claimed that the brewery has secured all necessary permits and will not negatively impact local water resources. The company said it would consider other locations if doing business in Mexico became too onerous. 

Protests against the brewery have occurred for years, but they gained further traction under López Obrador, who took office in December 2018 and has expressed concern over the infrastructure boom in parched border cities. 

In September 2019, López Obrador directly criticized the practice of providing permits for brewery operations in water-scarce areas of northern Mexico. 

“If someone wants to produce beer – in case it’s necessary – in the southeast, that’s where the Papaloapan is, the Grijalva, the Usumacinta,” López Obrador told reporters in September, citing several key Mexican rivers. “That’s where 70% of the country’s water is.”

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