Community leaders from South Texas have agreed in a special meeting that the region’s troubling water problems can only be solved by developing a comprehensive initiative that would be shared by major stakeholders along the Rio Grande River from Brownsville north to Laredo.
This is deemed necessary if there is any hope of avoiding a continued critical water shortage in the years ahead.
Another year of serious drought, combined with the failed delivery of water owed to Texas through terms of a water treaty with Mexico, has left Rio Grande Valley communities, agriculture, and other regional industries in dire straits and water supplies dwindle.
Over 100 representatives of agricultural, municipal, industrial, business, and environmental interests — a Who’s Who of regional and state leaders — met at Weslaco to hash out possible solutions to the escalating water crisis.
State and federal leaders attended the event in person, or addressed the group via telephone. They included Commissioner Carlos Rubenstein, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; Mark Ellison and Darrel Nichols, Texas Water Development Board; Commissioner Edward Drusina, International Boundary and Water Commission; Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples; State Representative Eddie Lucio III; Congressman Filemon Vela; and staff members from the offices of Senator John Cornyn and Congressman Ruben Hinojosa.
Municipal and county officials were also represented, as were officials of regional and local water districts and industry, among them a number of farmers, ranchers, and support organizations and associations.
“There is a need for a regionalized approach when addressing the water issues that threaten a sustainable economy in South Texas, Carlos Rubenstein said.
In addition to the economic implications of the water crisis, he laid out the background and history of what he termed Mexico’s non-compliance with the 1944 International Water Treaty.
In a report released in late June, Rubenstein said a mounting water deficit of 471,000 acre feet that Mexico owes the Lower Rio Grande Valley under the treaty is getting larger and “more serious.” He said the U.S. State Department and the White House should step up pressure on Mexico to deliver the water guaranteed under terms of the treaty.
That pact requires Mexico to deliver water to South Texas that is collected from the Rio Grande River watershed south of the border. Texas farmers and irrigation officials say Mexico is behind in delivering nearly 500,000 acre feet of water it owes the U.S. for the current five-year cycle, which began in October 2010.
In total, Mexico is required to deliver 1.75 million acre feet of water during the period. So far, about halfway through the period, they have delivered less than 450,000 acre feet of water.
Mark Ellison and Darrel Nichols discussed House Bill 4, new legislation that expands state financing for water projects. The measure was signed in late May by Governor Rick Perry, laying the foundation for future water projects across the state. It provides for active, full-time governance by the Texas Water Development Board; creates a new funding mechanism to support water supply project implementation over the next 50 years; and directs local, regional, and state officials to prioritize projects to insure efficient use of available resources.
“Water is an essential part of everyone’s life,” Perry said at the signing, “and insuring adequate supplies means continued job creation, stronger communities, and healthier families for decades to come. This bill will provide new funds that will support local and regional projects and lower the cost of issuing bonds for much-needed water projects.”
The bill becomes law Sept. 1, 2013
Concerning a regional approach to water projects, Rep. Eddie Lucio III emphasized the need for entities in the region to work together and share in financing.
In what is viewed as a positive action, the group passed by voice vote two critical needs for regional water requirements:
First is the current situation with the Mexico water deficit and on-compliance with the 1944 treaty, the dire effects of which the group says is now being felt by irrigation districts and producers across the Valley, and by municipalities whose water normally arrives on the back of irrigation water.
Second is the need for a united plan of action in seeking state and federal funds to develop new sources of water, and to fix or improve the inefficient regional water distribution system. These include conveyance improvements in delivering irrigation water to farms, such as closed pipelines, lined canals, and system automation — all proven to deliver a big water conservation bang for the buck.
In a statement released by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership following the meeting, next steps include a regional communication and education effort, formation of a steering committee, and conversations about funding the new initiative. It also says these efforts are not intended to duplicate others, but instead to bring many voices together to speak loudly and clearly for the benefit of all of South Texas.
Regional meeting planners at the event included Ray Prewett, Texas Citrus Mutual; Wayne Halbert, Irrigation District Managers Association; Jim Darling, mayor, McAllen, and president of the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority; and Julian Alvarez, president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.