A U.S. Congressman from South Texas says water concerns are mounting among city leaders, residents and farmers in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas over the delivery of water from Mexico as required by a 1944 water treaty, especially after getting a letter April 1 from Thomas Gibbons, U.S. State Department assistant secretary of legislative affairs.
Gibbons letter was a written response to letters sent last month to the State Department by Rio Grande Valley officials and lawmakers from Texas requesting assistance in getting Mexico to deliver water to South Texas as mandated by the treaty. Copies of those letters were also sent to officials at the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), a bi-national agency charged with managing water allocations from the Rio Grande River and its tributaries.
Gibbons wrote that “we [the State Department] remain hopeful that a solution will be forthcoming in a timely manner,” but the letter failed to mention any specific dates regarding water delivery.
“They don’t care about South Texas,” Congressman Filemon Vela of Brownsville said of State Department and IBWC officials in response.
Vela, along with a number of other South Texas officials, say Mexico is overdue in delivering water that is desperately needed in the Valley because of current and extreme drought conditions. Most Valley communities have enacted water restrictions already and the region’s citrus growers say they fear the shortage of irrigation water could be tragic to the Valley’s large citrus industry as well as to other farming operations in the agriculture-rich Valley.
Vela quickly shot back another letter to Gibbons.
“To be clear, your letter has not been helpful,” Vela responded.
Texas citrus growers alarmed over water shortage
The concern over enough water for irrigation of citrus groves was one of the topics covered during a report offered to members of Texas Citrus Mutual (TCM), a Valley-based citrus industry association representing producers and processors, by Joe Barrera of the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority (RGRWA) during TCM’s semi-annual meeting April 4.
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Jim Darling, president of the water authority, was one of the Valley officials who sent letters to IBWC Commissioner Edward Drusina last month over current water concerns.
“The Rio Grande Regional Water Authority strongly encourages the IBWC to coordinate with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for a positive resolution in this matter,” Darling’s letter stated.
Barrera says according to the 1944 international water treaty, Mexico is required to deliver water to the U.S. in cycles of five years. The current five-year cycle began in October 2010 and ends in October 2015. For the current cycle, Mexico is obligated to deliver about 1.75 million acre-feet of water during the five year cycle. The U.S. has received just over 400,000 acre-feet of water from Mexico during the current cycle.
One of the contentions associated with the treaty is that officials in Mexico and in the U.S. may not agree on when the water is to be delivered. Some officials in Mexico believe all of the water must be delivered before the five year cycle expires, but Barrera said RGRWA, South Texas officials and members of the Valley’s Congressional contingent, including U.S. Senator John Cornyn, believe the treaty calls for a minimum 350,000 acre-feet of water to be delivered each year of the cycle. The five year cycle is currently in its third year, meaning Mexico should have delivered between 700,000 to just over 1 million acre-feet of water so far.
But Barrera and other U.S. officials warned that there is a provision by which the delivery schedule could be adversely delayed. He says that would include an extraordinary drought n Mexico’s watershed or a serious accident affecting Mexico’s conveyance system.
Some theorize that may be the position Mexican officials will argue concerning delivery deadlines. But Texas authorities say substantial rain has fallen across the Rio Grande River watershed on the Mexico side of the border in recent years and that some reservoirs in Northern Mexico are reported filled to capacity. So far no official response from Mexico has been received.
Gibbons, in his response to Vela’s letter, said the State Department has brought together various agencies to discuss possible solutions and met with Mexican counterparts “to explain U.S. expectations of Mexico with respect to the 1944 treaty.” He said that includes the IBWC, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Mexico’s National Water Commission.
But TCEQ’s commissioner, Carlos Rubinstein, says the State Department’s “lackadaisical attitude” needs to change in order to prevent “serious socioeconomic impacts to the region.” He noted the State Department’s involvement in a similar water dispute in a 2005 water crisis was critical in resolving the water debt issue with Mexico.
In addition, Velas reminds federal officials that the U.S. has provided water to Mexico on 17 separate occasions as a gesture of goodwill at the expense of U.S. water users and wants the State Department “to remind them of that.”
A number of Valley government entities have passed resolutions asking the State Department and IBWC to aid in requesting Mexico to deliver water to the United States, including Cameron County, Hidalgo County, and a number of city leaders across the Valley. Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos suggested that the Presidents of both the U.S. and Mexico should engage in immediate negotiations to address the issue.