In spite of welcome rains that fell across South Texas Tuesday, Texas Water Development Board Chairman Carlos Rubinstein and Texas state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, seized the day when they staged a public information session in Brownsville spotlighting ongoing and troubling issues concerning the 1944 Water Treaty between the U.S. and Mexico.
The meeting was termed an "information session" concerning the terms and language of the 70 year old bi-national water agreement, but shortly after opening the meeting, Rubenstein suggested the time for real action had arrived.
"This isn’t a problem with the treaty. This is a problem with the willingness to comply with the treaty,” he told those crowded into the Board Room of the Brownsville Public Utilities Board (PUB) Administration Building.
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Tuesday's event represents the latest in a round of meetings staged over the last year involving a growing number of state and local government officials, agriculture representatives, water and irrigation districts board members, and the general public who have been encouraging federal officials to get tougher on Mexico about honoring their commitment to the water treaty and to deliver water to South Texas as required.
According to the water treaty, Mexico is required to release 1.75 million acre-feet of water to the U.S. over a five year cycle in exchange for water the U.S must deliver to Mexico from the Colorado River. Many water officials in the U.S. say Mexico is required by the agreement to deliver a minimum of 350,000 acre-feet of water each year of each five year cycle, a position Rubenstein says is interpreted differently by Mexican water officials.
Rubenstein, with the help of Lucio and Valley agriculture industry representative Ray Prewett, made the presentation in hopes of helping the public better understand the terms and obligations of the treaty and the consequences of Mexico's failure to deliver water that is owed to South Texas on time.
Rubenstein and Lucio spoke about the legal aspects of the treaty while Prewett talked about how South Texas was suffering economic hardships as a result of Mexico's failure to deliver the water on time. He told those gathered that some $400 million in income and some 5,000 jobs in or related to agriculture are dependent on water allocations from Mexico each year.
Last spring, city and county officials across the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas water officials from Austin, elected state and federal representatives, including two U.S. Senators, staged meetings, passed resolutions, issued letters to U.S. and Mexican officials, and helped to introduce proposed legislation in Washington that would require the U.S. State Department to get tough on the international water issue and pressure Mexican officials to own up to what they termed clear obligations to deliver water.
Rubenstein said to some extent the pressure generated by those efforts helped as Mexico made "a few" periodic and small releases of water from Mexican reservoirs that provided some water to Valley users. But he said the deliveries were too little too late to erase the deficit owed to South Texas or to help the Valley's struggling crop production. He also charged those water releases came only after extensive water restrictions were passed by South Texas communities who had become desperate for water.
Rep. Eddie Lucio said in spite of efforts last year by officials at the state and national level to resolve the Valley’s water issues, over the fall and winter months, Mexico has not made any deliveries, instead falling silent on the issue of continued water deliveries in 2014.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, were successful in inserting language into the most recent farm bill that would have required the U.S. State Department to issue quarterly reports about Mexican water deliveries and deficits. But International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) officials say Mexican officials contend they are still reassessing interpretations of the treaty language and still take the position that water runoffs caused by rain help to resupply the levels of the Rio Grande and this, they say, represents a portion of the water debt they owe each five year cycle.
Rubenstein, Lucio and other South Texas officials gathered at the event Tuesday strongly disagreed with that interpretation and said the language of the treaty is very clear about obligations required by both the United States and Mexico.
Rubenstein charges that when Mexican water officials announced their water priority list last November, they had allocated all 100 percent of their waters to cities and farmers along the banks of Mexico's rivers and failed to commit any water toward water deliveries owed to the United States.
"Instead, they are waiting to see if natural rainfall will be enough to satisfy their debt," Rubenstein told the crowd, thereby eliminating the need to release water from Mexican reservoirs to South Texas.
Lake levels low
He said the practice violates the actual terms of the treaty and says it is time U.S. officials take action, a measure that Lucio said he supports.
“Why do we continue to be good neighbors?” Lucio asked. "We [the United States] have never failed to deliver water to Mexico."
He said it was ridiculous that Mexican and U.S. officials "can't see eye-to-eye on the treaty" and suggested that there may be additional strategies on the way that could help remedy the Mexican water deficit, though he failed to provide details.
Before Tuesday's session began, Amistad and Lake Falcon reservoirs were reported at 39 and 35 percent full respectively. Heavy rains in both Mexico and across the Valley Tuesday were expected to provide some immediate relief for young crops growing and for livestock on ranches across the Valley. But once dry and hot weather returns, without further substantial rain and/or timely water deliveries from Mexico, officials say drought conditions will return and not only will agriculture be at risk, but also the water needs of cities across South Texas will outpace supply.