More letters are expected to flow south to Mexico’s ambassador to the United States and the International Boundary and Water Commission requesting that Mexico release water owed to the U.S. because of the ongoing drought in Texas.
Members of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Water District Managers’ Association met Tuesday and voted to send letters to the IBWC and Mexican leaders in an attempt to get them to address the issue, officials said.
“There are going to be a number of letters going out that will hopefully force some type of response from the federal government over this,” said Frank “Jo Jo” White, general manager of the Hidalgo and Cameron Counties Irrigation District No. 9.
“It is just not an ag (agricultural) issue. It is bigger than that and it is something unfortunately that has come up and this is something that needs to be addressed. How, when, where … we have fought this battle before and really didn’t get too far anywhere,” White said. “The only way any resolution is going to come out of that is pressure from the U.S. State Department.”
Under the agreement, Mexico is to deliver water to the U.S. in cycles of five years. The current five-year cycle began in October 2010 and ends in October 2015, which means Mexico has until then to deliver the water it owes.
By then Mexico must have delivered 1.750 million acre-feet — provided there are no exceptional drought conditions in Mexico, officials said. As of Feb. 9, it had delivered 403,082 acre-feet toward the five-year total.
White said the water owed to the U.S. has caused irrigation accounts in the Valley to become depleted.
The letter follows a similar letter south Texas congressional members sent last week. The federal lawmakers have yet to receive a response, officials said.
The congressmen also sent letters to Eduardo Medina Mora, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, and Edward Drusina, head commissioner of the IBWC, requesting they address the issue.
The congressmen said several leaders of border communities had contacted them saying they are running out of water due to drought conditions and lack of inflows from the Rio Grande.
Patricia Guillermo, communications director for U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, said Hinojosa has yet to receive a response from Medina Mora, but that officials anticipate a response soon.
Ricardo Alday Gonzalez, spokesman for the Mexican embassy, said the ambassador received the letter Friday and is reviewing its contents. It is unknown when the ambassador will issue a response, he said.
“I completely share the congressmen’s concerns about drought impacts in Texas and the importance of treaty compliance,” Drusina said in a written statement.
The letter was sent Feb. 14 by Congressmen Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville; Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo; Hinojosa and Pete Gallego, D-Alpine.
The letter to Drusina states, “To date, they are significantly behind in their water payments and we understand that they are constructing several new water reservoirs in Chihuahua that will further restrict water flows to the river.”
A letter to Medina Mora states the same.
Hinojosa said the water supplies in deep south Texas continue to dwindle and residents living in the area can no longer afford to wait for Mexico to release the water.
“We on the border have maintained a very good relationship with Mexico and we plan on keeping close ties. We ask that they do the right thing and release the water that is owed to us and they do it quickly,” Hinojosa said.
The letters make reference to the 1944 water-sharing treaty that states Mexico is obligated to provide water to the United States.
As of Monday, figures show the water levels at both the Amistad Reservoir and Falcon Reservoir were below their average capacity. The figures show that Amistad is at 1,066.31 feet, 50.69 feet below its normal conservation of 1,117 feet. Falcon is at 273.35 feet, 27.85 below normal conservation of 301.2 feet.
Although it is unclear exactly how much water Mexico owes the U.S., it is an issue that irrigation managers in the Rio Grande Valley have disputed for about 10 years.
White said some Valley irrigation districts have sent letters to municipalities they service alerting them that it might be time to review their conservation plans should the irrigation district run out of water, White said.
Letters have been sent to Mercedes, Weslaco, Edcouch-Elsa, La Villa and north Alamo Water Supply. In addition, letters have been sent to Raymondville and Lyford.
More letters from other irrigation districts to other municipalities are expected to be sent out soon.
“When there is plenty of water it is sort of swept under the carpet, and when we have plenty of water in the accounts people just sort of take their eye off of the treaty agreement,” White said. “By the time we start getting low on water it’s too late. Mexico is already in arrears so deeply that what can be done?”