Mexico Agrees to Discharge Water Debt to Texas

MISSION, Texas, March 11, 2005 (ENS) - Mexico will pay off its entire water debt to Texas by September, under terms of an deal reached between the United States and Mexico late last week and made public on Thursday. The agreement ends a 12 year dispute between the two countries over Mexico’s water debt.

“Today we are here to announce tremendous news for farmers, ranchers and residents of the Rio Grande Valley,” said Texas Governor Rick Perry in Mission on Thursday. “The 12 year wait is over, our diplomacy has been successful and every drop of the water owed you by Mexico is on the way.”

In Mexico City, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said Thursday, "In the spirit of effective bilateral cooperation, I am pleased that we have reached a mutual understanding on the transfer of a sum of water that will cover Mexico's debt to the United States under our 1944 Water Treaty, thus ensuring continued cooperation in the management of precious natural resources to the mutual benefit of both economies."

Mexico currently owes Texas approximately 733,000 acre feet of water under terms of the 1944 Water Sharing Treaty. At one point, Mexico’s water debt had reached 1.5 million acre feet.


Texas Governor Rick Perry (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
“This is not only great news for the people of the Rio Grande Valley," Perry told a group of farmers, ranchers and businesspeople. "It is a historic day for all of Texas, the United States and Mexico, because it marks the end of a contentious issue that has clouded our friendship for too long and marks the beginning of a new era of cooperation."

Under the new agreement Mexico will transfer water from the international Amistad and Falcon reservoirs to Texas, raising U.S. reserves from 95 percent of storage to 103 percent.

Lakes at the two dams on the Rio Grande in South Texas are the major sources of water for the arid Lower Rio Grande Valley. For years, they were dangerously low until moderate rainfall in 2004 raised their levels.

In addition, Mexico will deliver at least the average minimum of 350,000 acre-feet of water per year for the remaining three years of the current cycle, and end the cycle without a deficit.

The water will be allocated to water rights holders in the Rio Grande for use in 2005 and 2006.

“These transfers will ensure that Texas growers have the water they need in time for the planting season and give our farmers, their families and employees some much needed piece of mind,” Perry said. “And not only will Mexico’s existing water debt be totally paid off in short order, but South Texas farmers and ranchers can also expect consistency and certainty in future water deliveries.”

The Rio Grande Basin, a expanse of land on either side of the Rio Grande, from the mouth at the Gulf of Mexico to southern Colorado, is the river's watershed and includes one of the most productive agricultural regions of the United States.

But severe drought, an exploding population, new industries and inefficient agriculture irrigation systems are some of many factors identified as exerting pressure on the Rio Grande.

The United States and Mexico have agreed to continue to work together to clarify and formalize key provisions in the 1944 treaty. They will determine how both countries will define conditions under which water transfers can be modified if necessary under extraordinary drought conditions.


Situated on the United States-Mexico Border and on the Rio Grande, the Amistad Reservoir holds much of the area's life giving water. (Photo courtesy NPS)
In addition, the United States will continue to receive one-third of the water arriving in the Rio Grande from six Mexican tributaries specified in the 1944 Water Treaty.

The new agreement also calls for Mexico and the United States to meet annually to review basin conditions, develop firm water delivery plans for the next cycle year, and work cooperatively on drought management strategies that can benefit both countries.

“These efforts will increase transparency and accountability, and help ensure that both sides live up to their obligations consistently in the future – not just when Mother Nature is generous,” Perry added.

An exchange of diplomatic notes will formalize the understanding of the two governments.

Mexico has met the minimum average volume required under the treaty in the first two years of the current water accounting cycle, 2002-2007, and as of February 26 had delivered 125,840 acre-feet to be applied to the treaty requirement for year three of the current cycle.

The State Department said that Mexico will deliver an additional 224,160 acre-feet of water from the measured treaty tributaries before the third year closes at the end of September.

The agreement is the culmination of more than two years of diplomacy by Texas and U.S. officials working with Mexican officials to reach an agreement that will benefit citizens on both sides of the border.

“Today the relationship between Texas and Mexico is stronger than ever because we have kept the lines of communication open and talked as friends – even on this most contentious of issues,” Perry said. “The agreement we have announced today sends a strong message that we will continue to pursue a common path to that future – together as friends and neighbors.”