Texas Farm Bureau urges water rights protection

The proposal was one of several water policy options reviewed by the delegates, who took a hard look at the state’s water resources and challenges the state’s farmers may face if those resources are not protected during their 69th annual meeting in Corpus Christi.

Recognizing that Farm Bureau policy needs to move beyond the all-inclusive rule of capture to address realities such as water marketing and potential water shortages, delegates favored a number of changes in both ground water and surface water policy. The recommendations become policy for the organization to follow in 2003.

Besides the recommendation that groundwater conservation districts be allowed to set unrestricted fees on water leaving their district, delegates also supported a requirement for districts to assess a mitigation fee on high impact municipal or industrial users and suggested districts use revenues from this fee to mitigate any damage to landowners.

Delegates opposed legislation resulting in un-funded mandates for conservation measures for historic water use, and supported legislation requiring any new appropriations or any new water permits be subject to conservation requirements.

“Municipalities and water utilities that have taxing authority or collect fees for water should be required to impose water conservation measures,” delegates said, noting that both urban and rural areas should be responsible for wise water use.

In the area of eminent domain, delegates strongly supported enactment of legislation requiring that landowners be compensated for the value of natural resources if the property is condemned to acquire natural resources, including groundwater. Delegates opposed condemnation of surface water rights except for “domestic, essential municipal or livestock use necessary to sustain life.”

In the ongoing Rio Grande Valley water crisis, where Mexico has failed to deliver water to Rio Grande reservoirs as specified in the 1944 water treaty between the United States and Mexico, delegates reaffirmed their support for Texas and U.S. government efforts to solve the crisis.

They supported federal and state programs designed to help Texas agribusiness as a result of Mexico's non-compliance, and supported financing improvements for water delivery systems along the Rio Grande River. They also opposed efforts to amend reclamation laws that would negatively affect the priority of water allocation for agricultural use and would reduce the U.S. Secretary of Interior's authority to direct water usage.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, in her annual address to the Texas Farm Bureau, expressed frustration regarding the lingering Mexican water debt and its adverse impact on Rio Grande Valley producers.

“We have seen our farms dry up because Mexico has not kept their commitment on the water treaty,” she said. “The United States has always kept our part of the treaty and the Mexicans have failed time after time after time to let the water flow from the Rio Grande into our side, which they are required to do.”

Mexico has consistently refused to abide by the 1944 treaty that outlines the rules for water use from the river that separates Texas from Mexico.

The senator said Mexico had not been honest about the situation. “At first they said they didn’t have the water to pay the debt. Then we got satellite photos that showed in the state of Chihuahua beautiful irrigated farms – green, green farms and big reservoirs with our water, and you saw clearly on the other side of the Rio Grande dryness, brown farms that had dried up. So you could see that the water was in Mexico and it was being held by the state of Chihuahua. So it is time for us to step up to the plate,” she said.

Hutchison acknowledged that the $10 million in emergency grants she had insisted on in the emergency supplemental appropriations bill for farmers was merely a “band aid,” to supply money for planting next year's crops. The answer, she said, is to let farmers farm, and ensure that the water is there to do it.

“I think we’ve got to take some very strong steps,” said Hutchison. “I will be talking to the White House and to our State Department about either having sanctions against Chihuahua agricultural products coming into the United States or we've got to re-examine the treaty itself. We have to make sure we have parity and we cannot just sit there and let our farmers bear the brunt for a failed foreign policy,” she said.

In other action, in an effort to help Texas and the United States develop alternative energy sources, delegates supported creation of a renewable fuel producer assessment fund, financed by an assessment on each gallon of ethanol or biodiesel produced.

The resolution suggested this fund be matched with funds from the State of Texas fuel, ethanol and biodiesel production account, overseen and administered by the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Delegates also:

  • Recommended that the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation develop a procedure to ensure that cotton harvesting equipment and raw cotton products being transported into established boll weevil eradication zones are boll weevil free.
  • Recommended the Texas Animal Health Commission work toward a quick solution with the United States Department of Agriculture to ship cattle out of Texas to TB free states, and recommended that the Texas Cattle and Deer Tuberculosis Management Plan use the zone approach to control movement of cattle exposed to TB-infected herds.

On the national level delegates:

  • Approved a cost of living adjustment on all farm program payments and payment limitations.
  • They recommended development of a basic right-to-farm, right-to-harvest, right-to-access roads and highways policy.

Adopted national policies are forwarded to the American Farm Bureau Federation for consideration at their annual convention later this month.

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