The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1996, Volume 42, Number 2
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Notes

Stephen A. Colston, Book Review Editor

Water in the Hispanic Southwest: A Social and Legal History, 1550- 1850.

By Michael C. Meyer. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996. Bibliography. Illustrations. Notes. Index. xiii + 209 pages. $16.95 (paper).

Originally published as a hardcover in 1985, Meyer’s study examines one of the Southwest’s most precious resources from the perspectives of both social and legal perspectives during the three centuries of Spanish and Mexican rule. The author has deftly interpreted how the scarcity of water affected relationships between people in this region and provides abundant documentation for his assertions by drawing upon a plethora of secondary sources, as well as an extensive corpus of archival records (particularly from Mexico’s national archives) for his study.

Meyer approaches his subject by first examining the impact of water on the society and culture of the greater Southwest. One of the author’s more important conclusions is that the Spanish policy of congregating peoples — both native and latino — into settlements often accentuated the preciosity of limited water resources and thereby heightened social conflict. The author then proceeds to examine such conflicts from the perspective of Hispanic (and most particularly Spanish) water law. He accords particular emphasis to the manners by which individuals secured water rights and to the precedents and processes for adjudicating water disputes.

Water in the Hispanic Southwest, which has been largely regarded by specialists as the standard work on this subject since it appeared more than a decade ago, is now reprinted in a paperbound edition. While the original text remains unchanged, the paper edition is enhanced by a new afterword written by the author. In this section, Meyer provides a valuable survey of the historiography of Hispanic water law that includes a discussion of scholarship issued over the last decade.