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Op-Ed: Unless Mexico honors water treaty, Valley could face disastrous summer

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 30, 2013 - By Commissioner Todd Staples, Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
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Commissioner Todd Staples
Texas Department of Agriculture
Contact: Bryan Black 512-463-7664

Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
Contact: Terry Clawson 512-239-0046

Austin - As the record-setting drought continues, the Rio Grande Valley is marching toward a disastrous summer. 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 Valley is suffering from a drought that is both natural and—unfortunately once again—man-made.

Mexico owes the United States 470,000 acre-feet of water under the international 1944 Water Treaty. If Mexico began fulfilling its obligations under the treaty today, this water would at the very least 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.

Since November, the State of Texas has been warning the International Boundary and Water Commission that our Valley region is running out of water, and pleading with the U.S. negotiators to put the pressure on Mexico to fulfill its water obligations. In a bipartisan effort, Texas and federal lawmakers, as well as Gov. Rick Perry, have urged the IBWC, the State Department and President Barack Obama to make a concerted effort to get Mexico to fulfill its treaty obligations. 

As a result, the IBWC and the State Department have achieved—nothing. Their efforts seem to be limited to a shrug of the shoulders and claims that “there’s nothing we can do.” Yes, there have been meetings and discussions, but the water is not flowing. Mexico continues to ignore its treaty obligations.

But, there is something the IBWC, the State Department and the Administration can do. 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. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox discussed the water deficit 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 leaders representing? Over the past two years, Mexico has fallen nearly half a million acre-feet into debt to U.S. citizens. That is enough to supply Texas municipal and industrial users along the Rio Grande, from Del Rio to the Gulf of Mexico, with their water needs for approximately two years.

In addition to withholding water needed by the Valley, the IBWC has chosen to give U.S. water to Mexico. The IBWC has 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.

There are solutions to this water dilemma—ways both countries can meet water needs even under these dry conditions. We need leadership from the IBWC, and meaningful involvement by the State Department to move beyond talk and start providing water. Without drought-ending rainfall, or relief from the IBWC and the man-made drought, Texans in the Rio Grande Valley will continue to face a dry and dangerous economic future.