Water Disparities in Texas Colonias, USA


Colonias are impoverished communities along the US-Mexico border created by predatory developers. The population is all Mexican immigrants who are either unemployed or rely on seasonal work for their income.

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Basic Data
NameWater Disparities in Texas Colonias, USA
CountryUnited States of America
SiteAgua Dulce
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Water access rights and entitlements
Urban development conflicts
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific CommoditiesWater
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsOne resident pays $187 a month to live in a dirt-floored shack that is part broken-down motor home, part splintered plywood shed.

At last count, nearly 45,000 people lived in the 350 Texas colonias classified by the state as at the “highest health risk,” meaning residents of these often unincorporated subdivisions have no running water, no wastewater treatment, no paved roads or solid waste disposal (www.texastribune.org).

Sewage treatment plants, like the one in La Villa (another colonia), are overwhelmed and underpowered and greatly in need of infrastructure improvements however the costs are too great. In La Villa, warnings from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) prompted the town to take out a loan to make the needed repairs which put the town in debt by $140,000 for 10 years and the only way to pay was to increase water rates. Water rates per student increased from $6 to $14 which led to a rebellion in 2012. The town has estimated further upgrades and repairs to cost about $7 million, and this is just one town (https://www.texastribune.org/2014/01/10/border-towns-struggle-protect-water-infrastructure/).
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Populationup to 400,000 people
Start Date1950
Relevant government actorsThe Colonia Initiatives Program Office of the Texas Secretary of State; Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; Texas Health and Human Services Commission; Regional Councils of Governments; Environmental Protection Agency; United States Department of Agriculture-Rural Development; Texas Cooperative Extension Service; Border Environment Cooperation Commission, a binational agency charged with improving environmental conditions along the U.S.-Mexico border
International and Financial InstitutionsNorth American Development Bank
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersProyecto Desarrollo Humano
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Forms of MobilizationPublic campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
OtherWater- and mosquito-borne illnesses are rampant, the result of poor drainage, pooling sewage and water contaminated by leaking septic tanks. Burning garbage, cockroaches, vermin and mold lead to high rates of asthma, rashes and lice infestations. Other health impacts include high rates of tuberculosis that are two times the state average and four times the national rate, and the lingering presence of Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, almost unheard of in most of the country (https://www.texastribune.org/2011/07/10/conditions-health-risks-sicken-colonias-residents/)
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseNew legislation
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.While there have been some improvements, many colonias continue to lack access to clean water and infrastructure for basic needs. When it is made available, it is too costly to hook up to and these communities aren't provided with the resources needed to make use of the infrastructure.
Sources and Materials

creation of EDAP
[click to view]

Border Colonia Access Program: 2001 Senate Bill 1296 of Texas 77th Legislature
[click to view]

Addressing Critical Water Access Issues Along the US-Mexico Border
[click to view]


"TRACKING THE PROGRESS OF STATE FUNDED PROJECTS THAT BENEFIT COLONIAS", by The Colonia Initiatives Program, Office of the Texas Secretary of State
[click to view]

Texas Secretary of State Colonias FAQs
[click to view]

Border Towns Struggle to Protect Water Infrastructure
[click to view]


Conditions, Health Risks Sicken Colonias Residents
[click to view]

A Focus on Helping Colonia Residents With Health Law
[click to view]

Impoverished border town grows from shacks into community
[click to view]

[1] "Texas Colonias: A Thumbnail Sketch of Conditions, Issues, Challenges and Opportunities"
[click to view]

[2] Texas Tribune - Border Towns Struggle to Protect Water Infrastructure
[click to view]

Media Links

Video: Health and Conditions in Texas' Colonias
[click to view]

An audio and visual website about Las Colonias, the Forgotten Americans from PBS
[click to view]

ABC News story on the struggle to survive in Texas Colonias
[click to view]

Map of Colonias
[click to view]

Other Documents

Image of a house in a colonia
[click to view]

Colonias image 4 of the 5 children who live in this one room house, photo by Callie Richmond
[click to view]

Other CommentsThis is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan
Meta Information
ContributorBernadette Grafton, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update07/05/2015