This paper describes the rules of private and public law applicable to water resources “in action,” through the description and analysis of state and federal court decisions published between 1875 and 1890 in the liberal legal periodical El Foro and in the Semanario Judicial de la Federación. It also explains how landowners and ayuntamientos interacted while using those rules in the context of private and constitutional litigation. Private law decisions were rendered in two major types of proceedings, injunction suits and ordinary civil trials involving competing property regimes: mercedes of “waters” and public use of “rivers.” Public law decisions concerned amparo proceedings alleging violation of the 1857 Constitution by ayuntamientos’ actions that restricted landowners’ private property rights. The analysis of these decisions shows that courts were making their own rules when constructing interpretations of the Partidas, civil codes and constitutional provisions, where those legal frameworks could not have provided the answers that supported their decisions, which privileged private property over the public interest.
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