Mexico Transfers Water to US
January 20, 2004

By Elizabeth Pierson and Angeles Negrete 

The Brownsville Herald 

Brownsville, Texas 

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Brownsville, Texas - Mexico transferred enough water to the United States last week to fulfill its annual payment under a 1944 water treaty, leaving farmers and officials hopeful that Mexico might chip away at its water debt this year.

In the Amistad and Falcon international reservoirs, credit for 250,000 acre-feet of water was transferred from Mexico to the United States last week, according to Sally Spener, a spokeswoman for the International Boundary and Water Commission.

That brings the amount of water Mexico has transferred to the United States in this treaty year, which began in October, to about 384,000 acre-feet and fulfills Mexico's obligation to transfer an average of 350,000 acre-feet a year to the United States from six of its Rio Grande tributaries.

And it leaves some Rio Grande Valley farmers, who use about 85 percent of the region's water, better suited than they have been in years to plan this year's crops.

"For this year at least, this puts us in pretty good shape," said Ray Prewett, executive vice president of Texas Citrus Mutual. "That this was done early it leaves an opportunity now to focus on the deb"

However, the recent water payment came as surprising news to some Mexican officials.

Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, chairman of the Mexican Senate's Commission on Agriculture and Hydraulic Resources, said he wasn't aware of any recent water payment to the United States.

"I really don't know what kind of payment the United States is talking about. When?" he asked. "The only payment that I know of was three months ago, and it was about approximately 400,000 acre-feet of water, but nothing about a new payment at the end of this month."

But Enrique Zolezzi, a spokesman for Mexican farmers in Matamoros, said he had heard that Mexico had delivered a significant amount of water to meet its obligations under the 1944 treaty that calls for Mexico to transfer 350,000 acre-feet of water each year.

"Last Friday, we heard that the Mexican government delivered about 250,000 acre-feet from Marte R. Gomez (reservoir) and Falcon and Amistad reservoirs to comply with the water treaty, but this is illegal," Zolezzi said.

The payments come after months of rain have left Mexican and U.S. reservoirs higher than they have been in nearly a decade. The U.S. share of the Amistad and Falcon reservoirs on Jan. 10 was at 57 percent capacity, higher than it has been since before January 1996, according to the IBWC.

But Mexico remains burdened by water debt under the 1944 U.S.-Mexico treaty, which requires that country to make the annual payments in return for receiving U.S. water from the Colorado River.

An acre-foot of water is enough to supply two families with water for a year. As of Friday, Mexico owed the United States almost 993,000 acre-feet of water.

The 180 acres of citrus groves on Jimmie Steidinger's Donna property will be quenched until June or July thanks to the agreement, he said. But he's still not convinced he'll have the water his fruit will need after a dry summer, and he still wants Mexico to make regular payments toward the debt.

He's still worried he might not have enough water through the fall, when small grapefruit, " marketable only for Canadians or to juice companies, become big enough to sell for more money to H-E-B, Kroger, Safeway and other major U.S. grocery chains.

"It's great, don't get me wrong," Steidinger said. "But it leaves fear in you all the time."

Officials with the IBWC and U.S. State Department could not be reached for comment on Monday, a federal holiday.

Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, called the payment a "new step in a long journey" for the United States to get water owed by Mexico.

Cathy Travis, his spokeswoman, said IBWC and State Department officials have told the Congressman that discussions with Mexico about the debt will continue through the year.