As Deep South Texas continues to struggle with a water crisis, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein are once again rattling sabers at Mexico in an effort to get the South of the Border neighbor to release what both commissioners are calling water that is owed to Texas by treaty.
The latest public appeal appeared in the San Antonio Express-News Wednesday (May 29) as an op-ed, a call for Mexico to immediately release nearly a half million acre-feet of water owed to the United States and desperately needed to avoid a catastrophe caused by a record-drought in South Texas.
"The Valley's economy is threatened as the price of water rises for farmers, municipalities and consumers alike. Unless the drought ends, the worst-case scenario is looming — water may not be available for many uses, at any price," the op-ed editorial reads.
The commissioners are joining Rio Grande Valley farmers and officials who claim Mexico owes the United States 470,000 acre-feet of water under the international 1944 Water Treaty. The editorial claims if Mexico began fulfilling its obligations immediately, this water would "soften the impact of the drought and provide hard-pressed water and irrigation districts in South Texas a chance to explore other avenues for additional water."
This year's Valley cotton crop has already been greatly reduced as a result of drought conditions, and local officials say over all agricultural yields for all types of farm and citrus crops are at risk as a result of a crisis "both natural and man-made."
"Since November, Texas has been warning the International Boundary and Water Commission, or IBWC, that the region is running out of water and pleading with U.S. negotiators to pressure Mexico to fulfill its water obligations. In a bipartisan effort, Texas and federal lawmakers, as well as Gov. Rick Perry, have urged IBWC, the State Department and President Barack Obama to make a concerted effort to get Mexico to fulfill its treaty obligations," the editorial reads.
The commissioners say in spite of bipartisan efforts to push U.S. officials to action, nothing has been accomplished.
In recent months, Valley municipalities and counties have passed resolutions calling for action and were joined by the Texas legislature, Texas senators and representatives and others who encouraged the U.S. State Department, the IBWC and the White House to intervene in hopes of forcing Mexican officials to release water from "over full reservoirs" across Northern Mexico.
On April 10, representatives of cities across the Valley, officials from a number of Valley irrigation districts and farmers and ranchers across the region filed into a video conference meeting in Mercedes with IBWC officials. Termed the Lower Rio Grande Citizens Forum, the meeting was marked by emotional outbursts calling for a substantial release of water from Mexico.
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According to a 1944 water treaty, Mexico is required to release 1.75 million acre-feet of water to the U.S. over a five-year cycle. Many water officials in the U.S. say that means Mexico should deliver a minimum of 350,000 acre-feet of water per year. But IBWC officials say that is unclear, pointing out the agreement calls for a five-year delivery period without specifying exact release numbers per year.
So far Mexico has released an estimated 400,000 acre-feet of water in the current cycle, which began in October of 2010 and ends in October of 2015. U.S. and Texas officials point out that just about half-way through the five-year cycle, Mexico has released less than 23 percent of its water obligation. But IBWC spokeswoman Sally Spener in El Paso says the United States can not legally claim Mexico has failed to meet the terms of the treaty until after the five-year cycle ends, a position that is not popular with officials on this side of the border.
In the editorial published this week, the two commissioners say in spite of IBWC and the State Department's claims there "is nothing that can be done" to force Mexico to release water, additional action is not only possible but necessary.
"Between 1992 and 2002, the last time the U.S. allowed Mexico to violate the treaty, the Mexican water deficit had reached 1.5 million acre-feet. Under a different, more interested IBWC commissioner and a different, more engaged federal government, a series of meetings and negotiations were held," the commissioners write. "President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox discussed the issue in a face-to-face meeting. As a result, the Mexican government repaid every drop owed to the United States. It's time to ask, whose interests are the current IBWC leadership representing?"
In addition, the joint statement claims the "IBWC has chosen to give U.S. water to Mexico [and] failed to regain the 78,000 acre-feet of water used by the U.S. to counter water salinity impacts caused by Mexico; failed to properly implement the 1944 Water Treaty, resulting in the U.S. giving away half of its water spilling at Fort Quitman; and failed to protect U.S. interests last year and wasted water by fulfilling Mexico's request for water from Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico."
Staples and Rubinstein say there are ways both countries can meet water needs even under current dry conditions.
"We need leadership from the IBWC and meaningful involvement by the State Department to move beyond talk and start providing water. Without rainfall or relief from the IBWC, Texans in the Rio Grande Valley will face a dry and dangerous economic future," the op-ed concludes.
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