ICYMI- TCEQ, TDA Outline Actions Needed to Compel Mexico to Release Water Owed to South Texas
Texas Dept. of Agriculture contact: Bryan Black 512-463-7664
AUSTIN — In a concentrated effort to acquire much-needed water for South Texas, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein today released a call-to-action report, titled “Addressing Mexico’s Water Deficit to the United States,” detailing specific actions the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) should take to compel Mexico to deliver Rio Grande water owed to Texas. In addition, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service also released an analysis detailing the economic impact of irrigation water shortages to the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) region, which total nearly $395 million dollars in economic output and more than 4,800 jobs.
“Enough is enough,” Commissioner Staples said. “When two countries sign a treaty, compliance with the treaty’s terms should not be a point of negotiation decades later. Even worse, Texas should not have to prove to the U.S. and Mexican governments the severity of the impacts of Mexico’s failure to comply with its water delivery requirements. But that’s unfortunately where we stand today, and this report provides a dire warning on the devastating impact Mexico’s water deficit is having on the Lower Rio Grande Valley. It is clear proof that agriculture, businesses and residents in the Lower Rio Grande Valley are suffering, and the IBWC has tools to compel Mexico to fulfill its obligations before the water debt becomes unmanageable. I remind everyone that this is not a debate between two countries over how to share water—that debate happened decades ago and resulted in a treaty. This is about getting Mexico to live by the treaty, just like the U.S.”
Agricultural production in the LRGV region relies heavily on irrigation water for its crop production. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service estimates the lack of irrigation water has cost $229.2 million in crop revenue loss, which will ultimately contribute to an estimated $394.9 million loss in economic output for the region and the loss of 4,840 jobs that depend on the production and sale of LRGV crops.
“Without irrigation water, whether by drought, an unpaid Mexican water debt or a combination of both, the economic cost is very high for this region,” said Dr. Luis Ribera, an agricultural economist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. “This analysis represents the impacts of all economic activities that occur in the production of the Valley’s crops up until the point of their sale at the farm level. Therefore, these results are on the conservative side because they do not include the losses that occur beyond the farm level sales, such as transportation, storage, processing, packaging and marketing.”
As many parts of Texas continue to recover from the 2011 drought, the impact of Mexico’s ongoing water deficit will be substantial for farmers and residents in South Texas. At least 10 cities in the LRGV have been notified that if conditions persist they will run out of water by August.
According to the terms of the 1944 bi-national Water Management Treaty (Treaty), Mexico is required to release one-third of the water from its Rio Grande tributaries and reservoirs to the United States for agricultural and municipal use. The agreement calls for Mexico to deliver a minimum of 350,000 acre-feet of water to the U.S. annually. Exceptions are made during periods of extraordinary drought or severe accidents. A similar agreement in the Treaty has the U.S. delivering water from the Colorado River and its tributaries to Mexico. Nearly three years into this current cycle, Mexico has delivered less than half of the 900,000 acre-feet that should have been allocated.
“AgriLife’s analysis verifies our fears and provides concrete evidence of the magnitude of the effects that Mexico’s non-compliance with the 1944 Treaty has on agricultural interests in the Lower Rio Grande Valley,” TCEQ Commissioner Rubinstein said. “The analysis clearly highlights the tremendous impact this water has on the U.S. economy, yet our own federal government has failed to protect these resources. We have warned the IBWC repeatedly since November 2012 that this deficit would happen if nothing was done, and now, we are pleading with the IBWC and the State Department to undertake serious negotiations with Mexico to protect U.S. interests. Ignoring our previous requests for actions, the water deficit has yielded significant losses in both economic and human terms, and we are no closer to any resolution on treaty compliance. Texas residents will continue to suffer and our crops will continue to dry up, unless action is taken now. As farmers in Mexico plant and harvest their crops, Valley residents continue to wait and pray for rain to get much-needed water.”
The “Addressing Mexico’s Water Deficit to the United States” report co-authored by TDA and TCEQ recommends management strategies the IBWC should implement in order to compel action by Mexico. Recommendations include: modifying Mexico’s internal and international reservoir operation plan to release water from upstream reservoirs that are above normal capacity; not allowing Mexico’s water deficit to grow beyond current levels; and implementing Treaty provisions to allow for more flexibility in water delivery and apportioning. Recommendations also acknowledge accounting for water that flows at Fort Quitman and water salinity issues created by Mexico, and challenges the IBWC to take a stronger and more proactive management role in stopping illegal diversions of Texas water by Mexico.
See the report, "Addressing Mexico's Water Debt to the United States" for more details on the solutions offered from Commissioner Staples and Commissioner Rubinstein. View the full text of the Texas A&M AgriLife analysis.