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- Harsh words have started to fly over a recently announced International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) plan to release water from the Rio Grande River to Mexico this month, earlier in the year than usual, a move Texas and New Mexico irrigation districts say will cause serious loss of water to evaporation at a time when U.S. farmers are going to need every inch they can find following last year’s drought.
Mexico and U.S. Southwest
Water issues once again surfaced between framers on both sides of the Texas/Mexico border. Texans argued that Mexico owes the United States about 450 billion gallons of water under the terms of a 1944 treaty to share the waters of the Rio Grande, and that since 1992 Mexico has fallen behind on its required deliveries. Texas farmers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, who depend on water from the river to irrigate crops, have been hit hard by Mexico’s water debt.
Parched fields and dusty irrigation ditches caught the attention of state officials. In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the time, Texas Gov. Rick Perry outlined a plan for Mexico to provide enough water to meet Texas’ immediate water needs, as well as cooperative efforts to prevent future deficits.
In April that year Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs and Valley growers met with State Department officials to present evidence from satellite imagery that Mexico had enough water to meet its commitments. In February, Attorney General John Cornyn announced the creation of an in-house task force to investigate legal and diplomatic avenues to resolve the dispute and to secure water for users in the Valley.
What resulted was an agreement between then-U.S. President George Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox. Water stored in Mexican reservoirs not named in the 1944 treaty were utilized to repay a portion of this water debt, a move that enraged Mexican agriculture producers who threatened to take the issue to the Mexican Supreme Court. They argued that by taking this water illegally, the Mexican government had seriously degraded their ability to continue farming in the region in order to repay water they believed was not owed to the U.S. government.