Report assesses drought economic impact - Brownsville Herald: Valley

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Report assesses drought economic impact

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Posted: Thursday, June 20, 2013 9:44 pm

WESLACO — Irrigation water shortages to the Lower Valley could potentially mean nearly $395 million in economic losses and the loss of more than 4,800 jobs, according to an expert with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

The full extent of the losses is potential, not actual, if South Texas continues to suffer drought without any further water releases by Mexico, said Luis Ribera, an agricultural economist with the Extension Service.

The most disastrous drought suffered by Rio Grande Valley farmers and ranchers in perhaps more than half a century is being blamed in part on Mexico’s “failure to comply” with its water debt under a 1944 treaty.

“The losses are significant and job losses are significant as well,” Ribera said.

In addition to that analysis, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Commissioner Carlos Rubenstein have issued a report being described as a “call to action.” It details specific actions the International Boundary and Water Commission should take to compel Mexico to deliver Rio Grande water owed to

Texas.

The lack of irrigation water has cost $229.2 million in crop revenue loss, which will contribute to the estimated $394.9 million in economic loss for the region and a loss of 4,840 jobs that depend on the production and sale of Valley crops, the report states.

At least 10 Lower Valley cities have been notified that if conditions persist they will run out of water by August, the report says.

The report makes several recommendations to the IBWC, including:

n Modifying Mexico’s internal and international reservoir operation plan to release water from upstream reservoirs that are above normal capacity;

n Not allowing Mexico’s water deficit to grow beyond current levels;

n Implementing treaty provisions to allow more flexibility in water delivery and apportioning.

Longtime Valley agriculture expert John Norman of Weslaco said farmers and growers are in perhaps the worst situation since the drought of the 1950s.

“Based on what I’ve observed this year, and I grew up down here in the ‘50s during the other big drought, it’s hard to make a comparison between the two times because of the number of people here and the actual values of agriculture at that time. But this appears to be one of the worst, if not the worst,” Norman said.

“The only thing that I can think of that would change it would be a storm. I’m not talking of a hurricane obviously, but something a lot less than that, something with a lot of water to it that would refill the dams.”

But that would benefit farmers with irrigated land only, not dry land farmers, Norman said.

There are a lot more dry land farmers than irrigated farmers in the Valley, he said.

If Mexico were to release some or all of the water it owes under the 1944 water treaty, many farmers and ranchers would receive a lot of relief, Norman said.

Mexico is technically not in violation of the water treaty until the end of the five-year cycle, Ribera said.

But Mexico should be making regular water deliveries, not waiting until the end of the period, hoping a hurricane or tropical storm pays its water obligation, he said.

“The way they see it they don’t need to do it every year,” Ribera said.

“The problem for producers, they need water on a yearly basis. … They want to have one-fifth every year, so they can produce. The drought doesn’t help, but the drought hits on both sides,” Ribera said.

Ribera said only politicians can predict if there will be a change in Mexico’s practice of waiting until the end of a five-year cycle to comply with its obligations under the water treaty.

Staples expressed Texas farmers’ exasperation about the Mexico water debt.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “When two countries sign a treaty, compliance with the treaty’s terms should not be a point of negotiation decades later.

“Even worse, Texas should not have to prove to the U.S. and Mexican governments the severity of the impacts of Mexico’s failure to comply with its water delivery requirements.”

Staples added, “This report provides a dire warning on the devastating impact Mexico’s water deficit is having on the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

“It is clear proof that agriculture, businesses and residents in the Lower Rio Grande Valley are suffering.” 

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