EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Time is running out for Mexico to pay a large water debt to the United States, and that is making Texas officials nervous.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott emphasized Mexico owes a year’s worth of Rio Grande water payments and needs to catch up by Oct. 24. Otherwise, South Texas farmers will have to reduce operations, be forced to switch crops or look for alternate sources of water, he said.
“Mexico needs to end the cycle without a debt. Mexico ended the last cycle, as well as previous cycles, in a debt. This trend cannot continue,” Abbott said. “With only six weeks remaining, Mexico must deliver more water immediately.”
Under a 1944 treaty, the U.S. and Mexico share Rio Grande water for irrigation and other purposes. The U.S. delivers 1.5 million acre-feet of water to Mexico per year while Mexico is only required to turn over 1.75 million acre-feet during a five-year span. Despite this 5-to-1 disparity, Mexico “continues to be delinquent” in its water obligations, Abbott said.
“Only recently […] has Mexico begun to make minor progress on deliveries through direct transfers of water from the international reservoirs. Significant work remains and time is of the essence,” the Texas governor said.
Emily Lindley, head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, echoed the governor’s concerns about short-changing farmers as well as municipalities and industries along the border who rely on Rio Grande water.
“Texans in the Rio Grande Valley rely on the water that is guaranteed in this treaty to grow crops, provide food, operate municipalities and to guarantee businesses can continue operations,” Lindley said in a statement Thursday.
Mexican farmers not letting go of their water
Feeling the heat, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador this week promised to make payments soon but hinted his country might not be able to deliver the water on deadline.
And farmers in Chihuahua are blocking efforts to siphon water from a dam they rely on to irrigate their crops.
The farmers recently took over the dam and were involved in clashes with the Mexican National Guard that left a woman dead and a farmer seriously injured.
On Friday, National Guard Cmdr. Gen. Luis Rodriguez Bucio said the shooting was an accident. Soldiers were retreating from La Boquilla dam with three detainees, were followed in trucks by protesters and shot back after thinking they were being fired upon.
“The vehicles weaved in and out of the (Guard) convoy, trying to hinder movement and grab the detainees,” Rodriguez said at President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s Friday press conference.
He said one of the civilian vehicles came too close to the guard’s convoy and one of the soldiers heard shots.
“It’s not clear if they were coming from the front or from the back, and one of the soldiers opened fire and that’s how the two persons were struck […] it was a regrettable accident,” Rodriguez said.
Further, the president and Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral have been snipping at each other for a month about how the water debt got out of hand and from which state it should be drawn.
Corral said up to 50% of the water drawn from Chihuahua to Rio Grande tributaries evaporates or gets diverted on the way due to poor planning and infrastructure. Lopez Obrador has accused Corral, who belongs to a different political party, of playing politics and rousing the farmers.
Corral on Friday said Chihuahua has already surpassed its 38% five-year commitment of treaty water and says his state is in a drought.