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Pho to by Bill Br idg es on their daily runs is at the construction site of Bauman Elementary School, where all summer, as temperatures surpassed the 100-degree mark, scores of workers have been without access to running water. The school will not have running water when it opens in September. Lujan will be its lifeline, filling special above-ground tanks behind the school. Many Socorro residents cannot afford hauled water \(the price is about $22 per 1,000-gallon delivery, compared with about $1.50 for the same amount of not have the tanks needed to store it. They rely on friends and relatives. Every day, Francisca Jimenez, the mother of eight children, gathers up a few of her kids and a trunkful of plastic jugs and drives five miles to her sister’s house, where they turn on the outdoor hose and fill the jugs with enough water for the family’s drinking, cooking and cleaning. From Socorro to the Sparks Addition, on the northeast fringe of the city, above Interstate 10, 300 acres of mobile homes and shacks rest precariously on shifting sand dunes and the edge of a dry arroyo. The colonia is surrounded by freeflowing water. Down the hill, there is an enormous truck wash. And over the ridge to the north are the sprinkled greens of Horizon City Country Club. But there is no running water in Sparks. The consequences are alarming. Last year Rafaela Harvey, a public health nurse in the area, noted that 85 percent of the children from Sparks suffered from skin rashes, yeast infections, insect bites, diarrhea or vomiting. Forrest Sprester, an environmental engineer for the El Paso City-County Health Department, thinks he knows why. Sprester conducted a study of Sparks Addition that showed that 51 percent of the residents stored water in 55-gallon drums obtained from various sources in Mexico and the United States. “About 70 percent were labeled indicating the contents were toxic, such as methylene chloride, [industrial] solvents and trichloroethane,” Sprester’s study concluded. “Several children were treated for skin rashes caused by chemically contaminated clothes after the clothes were washed in these drums.” Two questions burn: How did this happen? What can be done about it? Although the symbolic contrasts of wealth and poverty are striking \(the untouchable water line that rushes through Socorro; the country club over MOST OF THESE subdivisions, or colonias, began without basic services: water, light or gas. In many cases, developers promised the residents that utilities were on the way. Texas law made it particularly easy for unprincipled developers beyond the city limits. Counties have no zoning authority in Texas and little regulatory power. The developers did have to meet some minimal requirements for waste treatment, but none for providing water. Some of the subdivisions received water from the city of El Paso’s water utility, which was providing it to areas near its pipelines and within five miles of the city borders; others had no source. By the late 1970s, the colonias were growing at a ten-year rate of 200 percent, even exceeding the rate across the Rio Grande in Juarez, where it was 134 percent. Socorro, which had no school district and bused children to distant schools, now has one of the largest school districts in the region. And in 1978, the El Paso water utility imposed a moratorium on water connections to Socorro’s colonias and all the others, citing economic and planning considerations. “The water extensions just promoted substandard development out here,” says John Hickerson, director of the water utility. “Our policy didn’t help anyone in need one bit. All we were doing was encouraging the breakup of farms and other land. The developers could promise the buyers they would have water and then the developers could justify increasing the price of the land. The illegal subdivisions were getting out of control.” So there was no more water for the colonias. But they did not shrink. In fact, they kept growing, fueled by economics far beyond the control of El Paso. As Mexico’s economy deteriorated in the early 1980s, more immigrants found their way across the river and out to the colonias. While there is no reliable method of counting undocumented immigrants, most experts here estimate that perhaps two-thirds of the residents moving into the colonias in this decade are in that category. But that is not to say that the waterless people of El Paso are also voiceless and powerless. Their numbers include a El Paso tenement, for many liying conditions as bad as they were in the 1940s is not that El Paso has less sense of its social responsibility than other places in the United States. Although the colonias represent the peculiar problems of the border, they are also a manifestation of the American dream the best and worst of it. In the 1950s, the valley east of El Paso was mostly cotton farms, owned and tended by Hispanic families whose roots in the area stretched back for centuries; their Church, La Purisima, was built as a Spanish mission church 306 years ago. As the cotton market began collapsing, the farmers sold off their land little by little an acre here, five acres there to developers, who sliced it up into subdivisions and offered plots for as little as $1′,000 down and $1,000 a year. The plots were sold on land contracts, meaning that they belong to the developer until all payments were made. Sweat equity, this is called, but the sweat seemed to be worth it to impoverished and working-class people S who yearned for a place in this new land. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13