U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Filemon Vela were right to pick a new target for their efforts to get Mexico to abide by the 1944 water-sharing treaty between our countries.
The Texas lawmakers — the San Antonio Republican Cornyn and Brownsville Democrat Vela — recently sent a letter to Edward Drusina, commissioner of the International Boundary and water Commission that oversees the river flows in the Rio Grande. The letter warns that the commission could lose funding if it doesn’t work harder to convince Mexican federal and state officials to honor the treaty’s intent.
The treaty requires Mexico to deliver 350,000 acre-feet of water per year into the Rio Grande from its rivers that feed it; the United States has similar requirements, and has always complied, even in times of extreme drought.
In fact, through a 2010 treaty amendment made after a major earthquake in Mexico, this country sent $21 million to Mexico for infrastructure and environmental improvements.
Once the water is in the river, the IBWC manages its apportionment to the two countries. Both U.S. and Mexican officials staff the commission; thus it should have some influence with officials on both sides of the border with regard to the water issue.
To address drought and other extraordinary issues, the treaty creates five-year windows for compliance. In recent years Mexico has build dams restricting the water flow to the Rio Grande, and ignored the treaty’s yearly requisite water deliveries. Much of Mexico’s requirement has been met through infrequent storm runoff, not from river flows.
Using the water retained by its the new dams, Mexican farming industry has expanded while their U.S. counterparts have suffered billions of dollars in losses because they haven’t had enough water to irrigate their crops. That has prompted some to allege that Mexico’s retention of the water not only violates the water treaty, but is a predatory practice that violates international trade laws.
Worse, if some of the $21 million from the United States has been used to build dams or other means to restrict water flow to the Rio Grande, Mexico essentially is using U.S. taxpayers’ money to hurt U.S. farmers.
We trust that Cornyn and Vela weren’t making empty threats in their letter, and that their warning of funding cuts reflects congressional support that would make it happen.
At the very least, addressing the issue to the IBWC is a good move, since the agency directly deals with the treaty’s conditions and includes members from both countries — talking to Mexican government officials has been futile so far. And the threat of funding cuts could grab the attention of officials who have been unmoved by mere words.
Will it work? We don’t know; but we do know that if it doesn’t, the Rio Grande Valley and others who depend on the Rio Grande for its water certainly won’t be any worse off than we are now.