Border good will evaporates in water dispute : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Border good will evaporates in water dispute


Published 10/15/2001

HARLINGEN, Texas Many Rio Grande Valley farmers and businessmen already in dire straits because of several years of drought face additional, potentially devastating losses because Mexico refuses to share water it holds in reserve.

"We're not asking for something unusual or special," one valley water district manager said last week. "We're just asking that Mexico live up to its agreement and save all of us from going down the drain."

Consternation and concern have changed to anger among many farmers in this area as promises of compliance and cooperation have proven to be virtually worthless and economic losses multiply rapidly.

Mexico and the United States agreed in a 1944 water treaty that the United States would send nearly 1 million acre-feet of water to Mexico from the Colorado River annually and Mexico would reciprocate by sending 350,000 acre-feet to the United States from the Rio Grande River. Every year the United States has delivered its required amount to Mexico. And every year since 1993, Mexico has failed to do so.

Mexico now is behind by 1.4 million acre-feet. An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre to a depth of one foot about 326,000 gallons.

Mexican President Vicente Fox and President Bush discussed compliance with the water agreement when they met in Washington in September, but issues of immigration, trucking and amnesty took precedence.

Some claim vast increases in Mexican farming along the border, plus the burgeoning maquiladora enterprises have increased demands for water far beyond what was expected when the treaty was signed in the midst of World War II. "What the whole story is, is that Mexico has overdeveloped its need for the water so much that they cannot deliver what they agree to in times of shortage," Wayne Halbert, general manager of the Harlingen Irrigation District, said yesterday.

Though tremendous damage has been done, Mexico technically will not be in violation of the 1944 treaty until next Oct. 1. Glenn Jarvis, a McAllen lawyer and chairman of the Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Group, said he felt it "obvious" Mexico would not be able to deliver.

An agreement last March called Minute Order 307 between the two federal governments required Mexico to release 600,000 acre-feet of water from Mexican tributaries into the Rio Grande River by July 31. Statistics from the U.S. International Boundary Commission (IBWC) and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission claim that just over half that amount was forthcoming. The remainder was to be delivered no later than Sept. 30.

Many valley farmers, assured that this temporary water delivery would allow them to plant at least a portion of their usual acreage, borrowed and risked and lost when the Mexican government reneged again.

Various statements emanated from Mexico one claiming that a lawsuit by Mexican farmers had resulted in an injunction halting the delivery; another that Mexico didn't have enough water for its own use. The former was true. A July lawsuit filed by 14,000 members of a water district that serves Mexican farmers all along the Texas-Mexican border claimed there just wasn't enough water to comply with the treaty or even the subsequent March stopgap effort. A Mexican judge in Reynoso temporarily ordered a stop to plans to deliver more water.

Jaime Tinoco Rubi, boundary issues coordinator of the Mexican Senate, put it succinctly: "There is not enough water to pay the current water debt promised by President Fox to the United States." Farmers and water management executives here do not believe that. Gordon Hill, who serves as general manager of Bayview

Irrigation District 11, says Mexico has more water in its reservoirs than at any other time in history. "It's unbelievable that our own government would allow this situation," he said.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 15, 2001

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