A select group of elected officials from Texas took a major step forward in keeping their promise this week to lawfully force the U.S. Secretary of State to lean on the Mexican government to comply with terms of a 1944 International Water Treaty with the United States or otherwise run the risk of losing U.S. benefits in the future.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela (TX-34) and Mike Conaway (TX-11) introduced joint legislation in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S House Monday, June 10, in the form of an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act, fulfilling promises made to residents and agricultural interests in drought-stricken Deep South Texas who have been suffering severe water shortages since the first of the year.
Several communities in the Rio Grande Valley have been limiting water use, and irrigation districts have curtailed water allotments in recent months forcing many farmers to forgo planting schedules this year and causing cities to buy "push water" in an effort to continue providing water to homeowners and businesses.
Officials at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality say the South Texas water crisis is the joint result of drought conditions and Mexico's failure to deliver water according to the treaty.
Under terms of that treaty, Texas farmers and irrigation officials say Mexico is behind in delivering nearly a half million acre-feet of water it owes the U.S. for the current five- year cycle, which began in October of 2010. In all, Mexico is required to deliver 1.75 million acre-feet of water over the five-year period. So far they have delivered only about 412,000 acre-feet about half way through the cycle.
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“The water debt and uncertainty about supply harms Texas farmers, ranchers, and small businesses who rely on regular, reliable sources of water,” said Cornyn. "Unfortunately, over the past two decades Texas farmers alone have lost hundreds of millions of dollars during these shortfalls, and we must step up pressure on Mexico before it’s too late.”
As a result of the water crisis, Texas AgriLife Extension specialist Brad Cowan in Hidalgo County estimates nearly all dryland cotton will be lost this year. Other crops, including grain sorghum, sugarcane, pecans and the Valley's citrus production, are at high risk if the summer season is dry again as forecast.
“As Texas faces one of the most severe drought conditions in recent memory, it is crucial that Mexico begin meeting its obligations to its water agreement with the U.S.,” Sen. Cruz said. “Ensuring that Texas farmers and ranchers have the water they need for their operations is a critical issue for our state, and I am pleased to work with my colleagues to ensure steps are taken to secure the water that Texas is owed and that is essential to the livelihood of countless Texas families.”
Required terms of the amendment
According to the terms of the amendment, the U.S Secretary of State would be required to file quarterly reports outlining Mexico's efforts to comply with the water treaty. The treaty provides water-sharing responsibilities of both the U.S. and Mexican governments and the use of common water resources, including the Rio Grande River and its tributaries.
If the secretary of state does not comply with the quarterly report requirement, the amendment would prohibit the department from extending benefits to Mexico.
“On the Texas-Mexico border, they [Mexico] are supposed to deliver 350,000 acre-feet of water per year, and they are not complying with that, and they have historically failed to comply with their part of the treaty,” Vela said last week. He said the legislation filed this week is an effort to force U.S. officials to take "serious steps" to force Mexican officials to make regular water deliveries on time.
Valley officials claim this is not the first time Mexico has been delinquent on water releases. Valley ag officials say in the 1990s delayed deliveries of water cost the Valley farming and ranching industry to suffer multimillion dollar losses.
In a meeting early this year, International Boundary Water Commission officials told concerned Valley farmers and municipal and irrigation representatives that their hands were tied and they could not force Mexico to make water deliveries.
Cornyn says the combination of failure of Mexico to deliver water guaranteed by the treaty and the lack of support by U.S. officials has been the driving reasons the amendment was drafted and filed for Congressional consideration.
“Since last November, the Department of State and IBWC have known that Mexico’s failure to meet its obligations under the treaty would negatively impact South Texas communities. The State Department and IBWC have been ineffective in securing much needed water deliveries from Mexico. The ‘WATER for Texas Act’ will help countless American farmers, ranchers, and residents in areas along our southern border get the resources they need to carry on with life,” Vela said.
“Texas farmers, ranchers and landowners need water – and they aren’t getting enough. I support efforts to ensure Texas has access to water and to engage the State Department on this important issue,” Rep. Conaway added.