EDITORS NOTE: Drought has bedeviled South Texas farms, ranches and citrus groves relentlessly for the past few years, taking significant chunks out of local economies, threatening industries, municipalities and residents of the Lower Rio Grande valley. Complicating the issue has been a disagreement over Mexico’s obligation to deliver water to the region as mandated by a 1944 water treaty. Following is the final segment in a three-part series discussing the drought, the treaty and the ramifications for both sides of the border

 

Water is eternal. It was here before first man or woman, who themselves, as you and I, were largely made of it. About water it has been said that nothing is softer or more flexible, yet nothing can resist it.

On the other hand, W.C. Fields summed it up this way, "You can't trust water, even a stick turns crooked in it."

Regardless of your take on the issue or how you choose to define it, the truth is, even with breath and bread, one can not survive without water. Courts have been hearing and trying to decide water issues since the earliest of times; wars have been waged because of it. It is fair to say that when it comes to H2O, as Ben Franklin aptly put it, when the well runs dry, we know the worth of water.

It is the “worth of water” that has become a real question in these long months of drought. From Mission to Brownsville, Texas, community leaders, politicians, civil servants, farmers, ranchers and residents are watching the days roll off the calendar and still no resolution has been found for a growing water shortage. Seasonal tropical weather may bring needed showers, but as time wears on and water resources deplete, some are asking tough questions and making bold statements about water they say is owed to South Texas but is being withheld unfairly.

“Enough is enough,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said last week. “When two countries sign a treaty, compliance with the treaty’s terms should not be a point of negotiation decades later."

In a concerted effort to acquire much-needed water for South Texas, Staples and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein released a call-to-action report last week, 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.

According to the 69-year old water treaty between the two countries, Mexico must release water from the Rio Conchos in exchange for water released from the Pecos River basin by the United States. To be specific, Mexico is required to release 1.75 million acre-feet of water to the U.S. over a five-year cycle. But many Texas and U.S. lawmakers say the treaty calls for the release of a minimum of 350,000 acre feet of water each year of the five-year cycle, an argument questioned by the International Boundary Water Commission (IBWC), the bi-national agency responsible for maintaining and policing terms of the water treaty.

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So far, Mexico has released an estimated 420,000 acre-feet of water in the current cycle, which began in Oct. of 2010 and ends in Oct. of 2015. U.S. and Texas officials point out that the five-year cycle is about half way through, and Mexico, they say, has released less than 25 percent of its total five-year water obligation.

In spite of the claims, IBWC spokeswoman Sally Spener in El Paso says Mexico would only fail to be in compliance with treaty guidelines if it fails to deliver the required amount of water over the five-year period. She says the issue is difficult to define, and suggests there may be differing opinions on both sides of the border. IBWC officials say they do not have the authority or ability to force the issue.

Lawmakers and leaders on this side of the border, however, are taking the position that annual minimum releases are required to conform to terms of the treaty, and some believe IBWC is not doing enough to resolve the problem.