EDITOR'S NOTE: In this two part series, the underlying cause of Mexico's failure to deliver water according to the terms of a bi-national water treaty with the United States is examined. Recent reports from deep within the State of Chihuahua in Northern Mexico may shed some light on the issue of why South Texas suffers from severe water shortages, partially caused by extended dry conditions, but also as a result of what Texas officials term overdue water deliveries they claim are being withheld by the Mexican government.

 

As deep South Texas continues to struggle with a severe water crisis, many local leaders of government and industry in the agriculture-rich Rio Grande Valley are wondering why Mexico does not live up to terms of a 1944 bi-national water treaty with the United States and deliver water they believe is long overdue.

They argue the economic disaster to South Texas farms, ranches and even communities will be real if overdue water obligations are not soon met, and they are asking why Mexico is turning its back on the problem instead of acting like good neighbors.

They are also quick to point out reports of at least one northern Mexico reservoir full to capacity and even overflowing, representing a loss of a precious resource when every drop of water counts.

As some Valley leaders have suggested, the lack of action on the part of Mexico not only seems inappropriate but also verges on what some farmers and ranchers are calling “criminal.”

But while it is easy to blame Mexican officials for hoarding water in fear of needing the extra resource for farms and ranches south of the border during dry times, a closer look at Mexico's little publicized internal problems across the northern region may provide a clue as to why they have been stalling on water deliveries to Texas.

Deep in the heart of northern Mexico's arid Chihuahua State, a water war may well be brewing, one so serious that shots have already been fired and proverbial war drums continue to beat louder with each passing day.

According to recent reports, in some cases Mexican federal police have been stationed at water well sites to provide protection and/or to monitor operations, and a growing contingent of local and independent Mexican farmers and ranchers have united and are threatening to take law into their own hands if the government continues to turn its back on what they term an escalating land management crisis in Chihuahua.

At issue are a rapidly falling water table and a shrinking aquifer level deep beneath the desert floor. Over the last few years the region's ejidos (small farm and ranch operators on government granted land) have complained to Conagua officials (federal water leaders) that white-skinned banditos de agua, or water bandits, have caused as many 400,000 head of cattle to perish in the desert from a lack of water over a two year period, primarily the result of deeply-drilled illegal wells they say have caused their own wells to dry up.

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In addition, other Mexican land owners across the region have expressed concern over the issue of falling groundwater levels, saying they have been forced to sell their farms and ranches because of a growing number of these illegal wells being drilled in the arid Chihuahua desert.

A drive from the state's capital city of Chihuahua north to Juarez (across the border from El Paso) and west from the capital city to Cuauhtemoc, once barren stretches of road through a desert landscape, have now been transformed into a rich, green region reminiscent of the fertile fields of the U.S. Midwest in both productivity and crop diversity.

Of concern to South Texas water officials and stakeholders, the region represents a large portion of the watershed of the Rio Conchos, the river that eventually flows into and serves as Mexico largest contribution to the recharge of the Rio Grande River. For this reason, the bi-national water treaty of 1944 between Mexico and the United States was adopted, a document that requires Mexico to deliver 1.75 million acre-feet of water to Texas every five years.

This water delivery, or the lack of delivery on schedule, is at the center of the current water controversy brewing in South Texas. Farmers and ranchers in the Rio Grande Valley are accusing Mexican officials of withholding the delivery of nearly a half-million acre-feet of this water, which they argue is overdue.