plan puebla panamáarchivos de los protestos globales •

Exploring Mexico

Usumacinta River Guide

by Ron Mader
Last Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Will the Usumacinta River be dammed?

Discussions are underway to dam the river in seven locations for hydroelectric projects which would flood both the Yaxchilan ruins in Chiapas and parts of Guatemala's Lower Peten. (See links below)


The Usumacinta River is the largest river in Mesoamerica (seventh-largest in the world) and is shared by Mexico and Guatemala. It has a basin of 106,000 square kilometers (65,720 square miles) and every year it empties 59 billion cubic meters of water into the Gulf of Mexico. The river drains one of the largest areas of contiguous tropical forest in the region, the Selva Maya, part of the Mundo Maya. The river also flows through economically and politically marginalized regions.

The ecological and hydrological integrity of the Usumacinta watershed faces numerous threats from deforestation, hydroelectric development, and mineral exploitation on both sides of the border.

The river rises in the Peten of Guatemala and flows along its common border with the Mexican state of Chiapas before entering Mexico and flowing eastward to the sea through Chiapas, Campeche, and Tabasco. Almost half (42 percent) of Guatemala is drained by the Usumacinta. Two internationally recognized RAMSAR wetlands lie within the Usumacinta watershed, Guatemala's Laguna del Tigre National Park and Tabasco's Pantanos de Centla reserve.

Recent History

In 1988 the governments of Guatemala and Mexico ratified a convention concerning the protection of the border environment. The agreement obligates the governments to cooperate in matters related to environmental contamination and the protection of natural resources.

In 1996, the Gainesville, Florida-based Mesoamerican Environmental Law Project convened a roundtable discussion on cross-border environmental issues. The issue of damming the river has resurfaced — so to speak — in 2001 and 2002 via the development of the Plan Puebla Panama.

Proposed Dams

More about the Usumacinta

Related Guides

Author and journalist Ron Mader lives in Mexico and hosts the award-winning website — — and is the author of the Mexico: Adventures in Nature guidebook and the Exploring Ecotourism resource guide. Ron presents workshops and presentations throughout the Americas.

Usumacinta Dams | Plan Puebla Panama | Dam Protests | Water Campaign | |