Texas Hot over U.S.-Mexico Water Agreement

Published March 1, 2003

Texas government officials and South Texas farmers are furious that a new water agreement between the U.S. and Mexico fails to address years of broken promises and the latter country’s failure to abide by earlier water treaties. Texas officials also claim deceitful accounting will allow Mexico to avoid meeting the terms of the new agreement.

According to the terms of a 1944 treaty, the U.S. provides Mexico with 1.5 million acre-feet of water each year from the Colorado River. In turn, Mexico is required to release 350,000 acre-feet of Rio Grande water each year to the U.S. While the U.S. has lived up to its obligations, Mexico has repeatedly failed to do so. The country currently owes the U.S. more than 1.5 million acre-feet of water, roughly five full years of Rio Grande treaty obligations.

On January 9, the U.S. and Mexico announced Mexico would immediately release the full amount of its 2003 Rio Grande water obligations. However, the agreement does not address the 1.5 million acre-feet of water Mexico failed to provide in previous years. Resolution of that issue has been postponed.

Texas Governor Rick Perry called the agreement “unacceptable.”

“Because of conveyance losses and because Mexico is using what can be best described as an Enron-type accounting to come up with their formula, the amount of water that Texas actually will get is 184,500 acre-feet,” said Perry spokesperson Kathy Walt.

“The governor believes this is unacceptable. The governor would like the State Department to continue to press Mexico for delivery of water as is specified under the treaty and to tie all negotiations to a long-term water delivery plan,” Walt added.

“I am pleased that we are at last seeing some sign by the Mexican government to honor its treaty obligations for the new five-year cycle,” said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs. “I am disappointed but hopeful that they will take steps to repaying the 1.5 million acre-feet of water debt, given that as of December 15, Mexico had 3.169 million acre-feet in accessible storage.”

Although there was no agreement to resolve the issue of past water obligations, Mexican authorities stated they would release an additional 50,000 acre-feet of water later this year if they received above-average rainfall this spring in northern Mexico.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.