EDITOR'S 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 first in a three-part series discussing the drought, the treaty and the ramifications for both sides of the border.

Tough times call for tough actions. That’s what many Rio Grande Valley lawmakers, farmers, ranchers, irrigation district and community officials and business leaders are saying this summer as extreme drought conditions dry up water reserves, reduce profits and continue to plague residents and businesses in Deep South Texas.

To make things even tougher, Valley leaders say the current trouble can't be blamed solely on Mother Nature, but also on Mexican water officials who many say have failed to deliver water due South Texas according to a 1944 water treaty.

The implications and aggravation of the spiraling water shortage in the border region represents the latest in growing tensions between the people and cultures of two nations who have made great strides in recent years to reach across historical, social and economic differences to build a new coalition and cross-cultural community designed to benefit local residents regardless of which country they live or work.

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Gone are the days when a visit to a Mexican border town was limited to a walk across the bridge for lunch or cocktails and a quick visit to the local market square to purchase inexpensive curios. Since the early days of NAFTA, interest in tourism has spiked on both sides of the Rio Grande. American and Mexican citizens stream across international bridges by the thousands every day headed in both directions to shop; to bank; to attend schools, universities and concerts; to enjoy restaurants and shopping malls; and in a growing number of cases, to conduct international business in a vibrant exchange of culture and new border custom.

While much of America has expressed concern in recent years over ongoing immigration and border issues, a trip to the Valley in recent times painted a very different picture. The region is now a dual-nation free trade zone where international commerce moves in both directions, providing exchanges of business and culture to benefit all borderland residents. It is the "new norm" for the South Texas frontier, a place with a new spirit of unity - a tie that binds together a region that is diverse in culture and transforms it into an economically viable and profitable relationship.