U.S. Water News Online
RIO BRAVO, Mexico -- Mexico's transfer of water from the
Rio Grande to the United States has enraged farmers south of the
border, escalating a long-simmering war over flows of the river in
the arid region.
U.S. farmers have long complained that Mexico wasn't fulfilling
its promise under international agreements to release an annual
average of 350,000 acre feet of water a year to southern Texas.
Mexico is supposed to send the flows north in exchange for 1.5
million acre feet of water from the Colorado River in the American
Southwest. An acre foot equals nearly 386,000 gallons.
Before President Vicente Fox took office, Mexico wasn't releasing
the full annual allotment to the United States, racking up a debt of
1.3 million acre feet of water.
After Fox became president in 2000, he began making the minimum
yearly payment of water, angering Mexicans in the once-thriving
region between the border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros where corn,
cotton and a variety of vegetables were grown.
Now Mexican farmers complain they can only grow sorghum, a dryland
crop that requires less water and is also less profitable. U.S.
farmers aren't happy either, saying they still don't have enough to
water their crops.
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs says the water
shortfall has cost farmers in her state nearly $1 billion in crop
losses since 1992.
``There is plenty of water,'' said Combs, who plans to visit
Mexico in February to the issue. ``The problem is Mexico is not
allocating it to make everybody happy.''
President Bush raised the issue when he met with Fox during a
Special Summit of the Americas in the northern city of Monterrey.
Bush prodded his Mexican counterpart, picking up a water bottle he
brought from the United States and saying ``let's talk about this,''
referring to Mexico's water debt.
Fox responded that he felt he had paid his annual water dues but
recognized that there was still a larger debt to be paid. Bush noted
that many Mexican dams were still at good levels after this year's
heavy rainy season.
Mexico says that because of a drought that began in 1992, it
doesn't have the water to pay the debt that has been growing for the
last 10 years.
Although last year's heavy rains in northeastern Mexico have
caused some reservoirs to overflow, the rainfall wasn't captured in
the Falcon or Amistad International Storage Reservoirs, where water
allocations to the United States would come from, said Jose Antonio
Rodriguez, a spokesman with Mexico's National Water Commission.
Since Oct. 1, Mexico has transferred 383,554 acre feet of water to
the United States, said Sally Spener of the International Boundary
and Water Commission.
Carolina Vazquez of Mexico's Water Commission says that fulfills
Mexico's yearly dues, but it isn't clear whether Mexico will begin
paying on its larger debt this year.
Farmers from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which borders the
Texas' Rio Grande Valley, say the recent payment leaves them high and
dry and they have had to abandon fields and cut back on crops.
``In the last few years, they first pay the United States and then
they tell us there is no water left for us,'' said Jaime Garza, who
heads a farmers' cooperative in Rio Bravo, an agricultural town 15
miles east of Reynosa. ``We are not asking for extra water. What we
want is the water that belongs to us.''
Garza and about 14,000 other farmers say they received no water
during the first two years of the Fox administration. For this
agricultural year, they have been given about 650,000 acre feet,
enough water to allow for some cornfields, but farmers remain
``They assigned us that amount, but we have to wait and see if
they'll actually give it to us,'' Garza said.
Mexican federal authorities have been tightlipped about plans to
repay the water debt, declining several interview requests by The
Combs and Tamaulipas farmers agree the problem stems from the
excessive water use by farmers upriver, in the state of Chihuahua.
``If Fox can fix Chihuahua, everybody can be happy,'' Combs said.
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