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Water shortages approach critical levels as Mexico’s water debt is mounting

A report on possible water shortages due to drought conditions was presented to the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court by Rio Grande Valley Water Authority Executive Director, Joe Barrera, during their Tuesday, Feb. 26, meeting. He said the situation is as critical as it was in 1998-99 because the irrigation districts are running out of water and cannot provide the full amount of water needed.

Barrera stated that so far this cycle (five year period) Mexico is 380,000 acre-feet behind in the amount of water that should have been released for Texas’ use according to the Guadalupe Water Treaty.

Barrera said a letter was being sent to Mexican Ambassador Eduardo Medina Mora reminding him of the terms of the treaty and saying several cities along the Texas border would soon run out of water due to drought conditions and lack of inflows into the Rio Grande River. Agriculture will suffer substantially as well. The letter was signed by Congressmen Ruben Hinojosa, Henry Cuellar, Filemon Vela and Pete Gallegos. Because the treaty is an international treaty, it will have to be dealt with at the federal level.

According the Guadalupe Treaty, one-third of the water in the Rio Grande River is supposed to come to the United States. The water comes from the Conchos, San Diego, San Rodrigo, Escondido and Salado Rivers and the Las Vacas Arroyo. According to Article IV of the treaty the allocation is set at not more than 350,000 acre-feet annually.

In times of plentiful water, where at least two of the major international reservoirs belonging to the United States are filled to capacity with water, the debt is considered paid in full and a new five-year water cycle begins.

Barrera said approximately 80 percent of the water that flows into the Rio Grande comes from the Concho River. If there is a problem in one cycle due to drought or mechanical problems, the water must be made up in the next cycle.

Barrera informed commissioners that Mexico is in the process of building 15 water storage reservoirs to hold water on the Mexican side of the river. Of the 15 projects, one is in Matamoros, two are in Guachochi, one is in Maguarichi, one in Allende and one in Balleza. Three are in Chihuahua, one in Guerrero, one in Bocoyna y Urique, one in Belisario Dominguez, one in Ojinaga, one in Manuel Benavides and one in Guadalupe y Calvo. Barrera expressed concern if Mexico holds water to fill these reservoirs, there will be less flowing into the Rio Grande River for the U.S.

Barrera said Mexico is holding the water for their own use even though the United States has never failed to release 1.6 million acre-feet to Mexico for use in Baja California from the Colorado River or another allotment of 60,000 acre-feet into Mexico from El Paso.

To verify how this would affect the Rio Grande, the Progress Times spoke with Sally Spener of The International Water Boundary Commission in El Paso. She said seven of those dams are located in the Mexican area that supplies water to the Rio Grande Valley. The others are located in the Colorado basin. The treaty does not prohibit building dams, but it does require that the amount of water required by treaty to be given to the United States be released.

Spener said IBWC in El Paso is in close communication with the IBWC in Mexico that has assured them the new dams and reservoirs being built are small and will serve municipalities but will not hinder the release of water to the U.S. side.

Under Convention of 1906 United States deliver 60,0000 acre-feet per year to Mexico from El Paso except in event of extraordinary amount drought or an accident to the US conveyance system. Spener said this year there might be a reduction there due to the drought and lack of snow in the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico.

Currently several areas in the Rio Grande Valley may be in trouble within 60 days if water is not released.

Barrera said the city’s allots are there but since the city allotments ride on top of agricultural water, without sufficient agricultural water to move city allotments, they water may not get there. For now Mission, Edinburg and Pharr have sufficient water but as the drought continues those cities could also be affected.

He also stated that unless cities had other sources to draw from, water for municipal fire protection could be affected.

According to Andrea Morrow of the Texas Environmental Water Quality office in Austin those areas are related to Hidalgo County Drainage Districts #3, #9, #16, Hidalgo-Cameron #3, and Cameron #2 and Donna. Cities mentioned as possible trouble spots included McAllen, Mercedes, Donna, San Benito and the Delta Lake area. Any city farther up the trunk line from those cities such as Edcouch-Elsa or Raymondville are even more likely to have trouble getting water. Currently, TCEQ is working with those cities to see how their water can be delivered to them.

When asked about other options for dealing with the lack of water, Barrera said the state was looking at taking $2.4 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to work on projects like a desalinization plant and possibly some covered pipes to move canal water to avoid the evaporation or seepage that occurs in earthen canals. He said the TCEQ had been working on those solutions for some time, but what has been done is small in comparison to what needs to be done.

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