Paid in full - Mexico clears water debt, Valley irrigators remain skeptical
(Note: Mercedes Irrigation District manager Jo Jo White is telling the truth: this water debt was almost entirely paid off by Mother Nature, not by Mexico.)
October 1, 2005
By Elizabeth Pierson email@example.com
The Brownsville Herald Brownsville, Texas
To submit a Letter to the Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org
Austin, Texas - Mexico this week ended its 13-year water debt with the United States, a debt that at one time was large enough to supply about 3 million homes with water for a year.
On Tuesday, Mexico made good on its part of the 1944 water treaty that requires it to send water to the Rio Grande Valley. A deal had been brokered in March of this year, with Mexico agreeing to complete the transfers by September 30.
Elected officials beamed on Friday. Governor Rick Perry praised a long list of state and federal officials for working toward the deal.
“This is a tremendous victory for both countries,” Perry said. “…Now that the debt is paid, both countries must continue to work in good faith to meet the water demands of citizens on both sides of the Rio Grande for years to come.”
Valley irrigators were pleased but skeptical Mexico would remain in the black, saying it was Mother Nature, not Mexico, who paid the debt. If not for two years of good rains, they would not have paid, they said.
“I hate to be a naysayer, but the issue is that nothing has been done to keep this from happening again, so it’s just a matter of time before it happens again,” said Wayne Halbert, manager of the Harlingen irrigation district. “The good part is, they're paid up, they're clear, and we're in good shape to move on forward.”
The debt began to accrue in 1992.
It has lasted through severe drought, heavy rains, and three presidential administrations in each country.
By 2002, the debt had grown to 1.5 million acre-feet, despite some payments Mexico had made over the years.
An acre-foot is enough water to cover one acre of land one foot deep. It is enough water for two households for a year.
The debt tightened tensions so that Valley farmers and agriculture businesspeople at one time blockaded the Pharr International Bridge to gain attention from the federal government, which they said refused to enforce its treaty with Mexico.
Officials at the Mexican Consulate in McAllen did not want to comment on the deal Friday.
A Reynosa water official who helped negotiate the deal did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Carlos Rubinstein, Rio Grande watermaster and one of the officials who negotiated the deal, said recent rains and the water deal will assure Valley irrigators enough water for at least the rest of 2005 and all of 2006.
The water to finally pay the debt came from a combination of water-rights transfers in Falcon and Amistad reservoirs, and water transfers from rainfall along Mexico’s Salado and Conchos rivers, Rubinstein said.
Despite criticism, the deal made progress on keeping Mexico out of debt in the future, he said.
Historically, officials didn't start discussing payment plans until the end of a five-year cycle in which Mexico had fallen behind.
In the future, they've agreed to start discussing the problem the very year a debt appears, he said.
“I don't think either country ever wants to find themselves in the position we have been for the last 13 years, and I think we are in good shape not to head there again,” he said.
Jo Jo White, manager of the Mercedes irrigation district, isn't so sure.
“We’re very appreciative of this debt being paid off, even though it took this long,” White said.
“But at the same time, we're still concerned about the future because the vast majority of it was paid off by Mother Nature, not by Mexico, because they did not release any of this from their internal reservoirs.”
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen and state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, both praised the deal, saying it was a great accomplishment for Valley irrigators, officials and cities that need the water.
The 1944 treaty requires Mexico to send the water to Texas, in exchange for receiving water from the United States’ Colorado River.
The United States has never missed a payment.
Mexican officials have maintained that they made payments when they could, but fell behind because of extreme drought.
Valley farmers have said Mexico might have made payments during drought if not for heavy planting of water-intensive crops along Rio Grande tributaries.
Copyright 2005, The Brownsville Herald.
Additional researched, pertinent information:
Jo Jo White: email@example.com or 956-565-2411