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U.S. Water News Online
HARLINGEN, Texas -- A single week of April rains
significantly reduced Mexico's Rio Grande water debt to the United
States, but some U.S. farmers and officials remained skeptical of
Mexico's intentions to pay what it owes.
Rain from the week ending April 10 brought at least 143,000 acre
feet of water into the two binational reservoirs along the Rio
Grande, officials said. About one-third of that water went toward
Mexico's debt, bringing it to about 920,000 acre feet.
The rains came during an unusually wet start to 2004 that has
helped farmers and made the Rio Grande Valley greener than it's been
``Everybody's in pretty good shape,'' said Wayne Halbert of the
Harlingen irrigation district. ``But as far as the debt issue is
concerned, there's still a problem. It's still being paid the way
it's always been paid -- by accident.''
More than 100,000 acre feet of water flowed into Falcon Lake
international reservoir in Zapata County during the rainy week. That
alone credited Mexico with about two months worth of water,
International Boundary and Water Commission spokeswoman Sally Spener
said. The Amistad Reservoir near Del Rio received about 43,000 acre
Under a 1944 water-sharing treaty, Mexico must release an average
of 350,000 acre feet a year to the United States from the Rio Grande.
The United Sates in return must send Mexico 1.5 million acre feet
from the Colorado River.
But with an extended drought that began in the 1990s Mexico began
falling behind on payments, and many drought-stricken U.S. farmers
blamed Mexico for their plight. As of 2002, Mexico owed 1.5 million
State Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs was not impressed with
this month's reduction.
``I think all of us have asked Mexico, since it has such a huge
quantity in storage, to make a substantial payment on the debt,'' she
She said one suggestion would be to have ledgers changed so the
United States owns more of what's now in Falcon Lake.
``We're not adding more to the bathtub; we're simply saying we own
more of the bathtub,'' she said.
Mexican officials have said they are behind only because of
drought conditions, and that they have been negotiating in good faith
with the United States.
The recent tropical weather has helped. The National Weather
Service in Brownsville has recorded 8.38 inches of rainfall this
year, 3.73 inches above normal.
For the short term, the state is not experiencing drought
conditions, though it's too early to say the drought is over,
meteorologist Michael Castillo said. South Texas is in an unusually
moist spell, he said. But the area is still catching up from three to
four dry years.
``The word is improving,'' he said. ``We're definitely
The rains brought Mexico's 2004 payments to 542,015 acre feet.
Mexico has met its yearly obligation and paid almost 200,000 acre
feet toward the deficit.
Meanwhile, West Texas forecasters are expecting the Rio Grande to
run significantly lower this summer.
Warm, dry weather in Colorado and New Mexico mountains, where
about 70 percent of the Rio Grande water originates, has caused the
snowpack to vanish more quickly than is required for good runoff,
``We're missing out on a whole month of snowfall and it's going to
take more than one storm to bring it up again,'' said Dan Murray,
water supply specialist with the U.S. Agriculture Department's
Natural Resources Conservation Service. ``Folks need to settle in for
the long term.''
El Paso officials say drought restrictions last year spurred
conservation and a search for alternative sources for water through
Even with recent West Texas storms, the forecast for water flowing
into Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico is down, said Wayne
Treershydraulic engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The
reservoir supplies water to southern New Mexico, El Paso and Mexico.
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