Even though recent rains have brought Falcon and Amistad reservoirs to levels higher than they have been in 15 years, the Mexican water debt still bubbled on the front burner for Lower Rio Grande Valley officials and citizens during a recent forum in Weslaco, Texas.

Carlos Marin, deputy commissioner of the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), said this year the Mexican government has complied with the 1944 Water Treaty, providing 350,000 acre-feet in January to the United States. “Any water they transfer now will be applied to the deficit.” Another 400,000 to 500,000 acre-feet could be generated from tributary flow by the end of the year, which would reduce Mexico's debt from the current 1 million acre-feet.

“We will be holding talks in April to address the deficit reduction,” said Marin. He referred to IBWC Commissioner Arturo Duran's proposal to place a dollar amount on Mexico's debt, based on acre-feet of water the country owes, and seek repayment. “Although we should not discard the idea, it would need a great deal of study and research.”

For instance, how is it possible to set a value for water when the economic impact of the drought has been so costly? Texas has incurred $1 billion in crop losses since 1992, due to lack of water. Another problem is that the 1944 Water Treaty does not have a penalty clause.

Homeland security

There is no doubt that recent heavy rains leaves Mexico with plenty of water, especially in the San Juan River basin where two reservoirs are at capacity. “We're asking Mexico to be cautious … to lower their water level,” said Marin, since flooding could occur in South Texas in the event of heavy rainfall with reservoirs that are already full.

Marin also talked about the commission's homeland security activities, a combined effort between Mexico and the United States to protect trans-border infrastructures in the event of a terrorist attack. Water systems, dams, wastewater treatment plants, international bridges, etc., along the United States/Mexican border have undergone assessment for vulnerability, and security enhancements have been proposed. The U.S. section has recommended a multi-year program to institute a Homeland/Border Security Program at its installations boundary-wide. “The plan is in place and waiting for the funding,” said Marin.

Jo Jo White, manager of the Mercedes Irrigation District No. 9, talked about last year's re-establishment of the Lower Rio Grande Authority (LRGA) in order to address critical water issues and to obtain funding for long-term water conservation projects. The LRGA, which includes representatives from irrigation districts in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties, was established in the 1950s and over the years had become dormant.

The districts have elected officers, established four working committees and have been given the authority to assess up to 10 cents per irrigated acre on members to jump start efforts to begin planning and attract financing for large scale regional projects.