Carlos Marin, deputy commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission, discussed the issue at a recent citizens’ forum in Weslaco, Texas, sponsored by the U.S. section of the IBWC.

“We continue to have meetings with Mexico to get them to release water to the United States,” said Marin.

Jo Jo White, manager of Irrigation District #9 in Mercedes, asked if there shouldn’t be a change of tactics since “this (water deficit) goes back to 1996.”

At one point consideration was given to using the Colorado River water allocated to Mexico as leverage, but Marin said there has not been much action on this on the federal level.

White questioned the possibility of confiscating their 50/50 water. “We don’t have that control,” Marin said. He also admitted that Mexico is using U.S. water to generate power for Mexico. “We can say, don’t do it, but it is up to them to comply.”

Another bone of contention was the release of water from Falcon Lake by Mexico, which sent the lake to dangerously low levels. The releases as irrigation water for Mexico began to increase in early April. The volume from April 1 to May 24 was approximately 351,000 acre-feet.

This release was in spite of the fact that Mexico had informed the U.S. Section last December that no irrigation releases would be made from Falcon through September 2003.

“This (release) came as a surprise,” said Marin. “This water should have been used to pay off some of their debt to the United States.”

Attendees, all of whom had some vested interest in the issue, expressed frustration that the U.S. Government will not put more emphasis on getting the water that Mexico owes the United States.

The forum also included discussion of a possible 100-year flood in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the IBWC discussed results of a flood study and an assessment on the strength and integrity of the 270 miles of levees that stretch from Penitas to the Gulf of Mexico. IBWC also provided an update on Mexican water deliveries to the U.S.

The Corps of Engineers, under contract to the USIBWC, uses high-tech tools in assessing the structural condition of the levees on the U.S. side of the river. The assessment, reported by geologist Joe Dunbar, rated the levees generally in adequate condition structurally, though he noted that a more detailed study should be performed to find what effect the long-term drought has had on the levees.

Less optimistic was the flood report that engineer Raymundo Aguirre presented. This study, called the Hydraulic Model of the Lower Rio Grande Flood Control Project, did not look at the strength of the levees but considered the elevation of the levees and how vegetation could affect the Project’s ability to handle water flow.

Aguirre said in the event of a severe flood, 38 miles of levees could be over-topped. In other words – areas of the Rio Grande Valley could be flooded.

Why just study; why not act? Marin said the issue is money. But he assured the audience that “subsequent funding will go to improving the levees.” e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com