Those aiming to make the region’s water issues a focus of the federal government received a boost Friday as Congressman Filemon Vela spoke extensively about Mexico’s failure to meet its water obligations to the United States during a press event at the Dancy Building.
Vela and others addressed Mexico’s lack of compliance with the 1944 Water Treaty, which spells out requirements between the two countries for water allocations, and signed their names to a petition that organizers hope will persuade President Barack Obama’s administration to become involved in enforcing the treaty.
The Rio Grande Regional Water Authority began circulating the petition in May in an effort to bring the water deficit to the attention of the executive branch and U.S. State Department.
At stake is about 375,000 acre-feet of water that farmers and municipalities badly need throughout the drought-stricken Rio Grande Valley as they struggle to meet needs.
That deficit is an improvement from earlier this summer when Mexico’s total amount of water owed reached 480,000 acre-feet.
Officials said heavy rains may have factored into Mexico’s decision to release the nearly 100,000 acre-feet of water, although it could also be due to the amount of pressure Texas and federal officials have placed on the country to erase its deficit.
Continued discussions with the International Boundary and Water Commission, which is charged with enforcing the treaty, and collaboration among stakeholders in the region has grown the issue out of the Valley, leading a delegation of Texas lawmakers from across the state to draft bills seeking to resolve the water deficit.
Vela and fellow Texas legislators Rep. Mike Conaway and Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz introduced legislation in both houses in Washington this year to force the U.S. Secretary of State to begin making quarterly reports about Mexico’s efforts to meet its treaty obligations.
Although neither version has passed — the House version was on the split portion of this year’s Farm Bill that did not pass — it has nonetheless brought national attention to the issue, Vela said.
He said the pressure and pending legislation might have encouraged Mexico to “turn the corner” as it began to release water recently, but said he was cautious about celebrating prematurely.
“We’re not at the end of the game yet,” he said.
The systematic approach, including federal government collaboration with the IBWC and state lawmakers, was advisable, he said, but he suggested it was not support in the legislative branch that was lacking.
“The entire Texas congressional delegation is in full support of our efforts,” he said. “What we are not seeing is the White House falling in line with our efforts.”
In October, Mexico will make its water allocations, but has previously not identified the United States as a water user, officials at the press event explained.
Herman Settemeyer with the Rio Grande Compact Commission explained that efforts to end the cycle of growing debt in the past year would be insignificant in the end if Mexico does not recognize the United States as a user.
“We’re at the mercy of a rainfall event,” he said, explaining that tropical storms are the only other option if Mexico designates the United States as a water user.
In years past, Mexico has allocated its water to Mexican users while just giving the United States the surplus water.
Even then, Mexican officials are not expeditious in giving the United States the water it is owed.
“There’s a lot of delay tactics they use,” Settemeyer said.
Mexico canceled a meeting concerning the water deficit last week, he said. The meeting has been rescheduled for Sept. 11.
The Oct. 1 deadline and the construction of up to 14 new water basins in Mexico have created a sense of urgency to get these negotiations under way, Settemeyer said. With the new basins, Mexico would have the capacity to store even more water, meaning it could potentially reduce the flow to the United States even further.
State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, who spoke ahead of his father, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said collaboration on the U.S. side of the border has finally taken off, noting that the hesitancy the IBWC seemed to express about demanding Mexico fulfill its obligations had faded.
“They get it now,” he said.
Before Lucio III and the other dignitaries signed the petition that aims to catapult the issue into the White House, the South Texas representative put into perspective what many hoped would have become evident when Obama met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto this spring.
“Mexico’s good will with our country should be in jeopardy right now,” he said.
Although he admitted those words were harsh, he noted it reflected the harsh reality that exists as Mexico continues running up its water deficit to the detriment of South Texas.