U.S. Water News Online
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The muddy water of the Rio Grande that
meanders through this Southwest metropolis is liquid gold to many.
Farmers rely on it for crops. City leaders, both here and in
Texas, need it for their residents and count on it for urban growth.
The pinky-sized silvery minnow and other species depend on it for
Recent drought and surging population have complicated the fight
over Rio Grande water. But so does a fact that draws less attention
-- namely, that the river winds along a long stretch of the U.S.
border with Mexico.
With that in mind, a plan is in the works to bring the governors
of New Mexico, Texas and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila
and Tamaulipas together to draft a water agreement. The goal: to help
future generations on both sides of the border manage the basin.
``I'm very concerned by the lack of attention Mexico's federal
government and the U.S. government are giving to water issues at the
border,'' said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is behind the
Richardson wants the five governors to draft an agreement that
would cover water use, conservation and management of the river. He
hopes to rally the leaders as chairman of the U.S.-Mexico Border
If successful, Richardson and others say the agreement would be a
breakthrough for the border.
The effort is in its infancy. Richardson staffers and a University
of New Mexico research center, which has been tapped by the governor
to help, are still months away from making formal contact with other
But in the meantime, the Utton Transboundary Research Center is
drafting a comprehensive briefing report on the basin's water issues
for the governors to review. The report is expected early next
Richardson's Mexican counterpart in the effort is Alberto Szekely,
a former Mexican diplomat who has worked as a special negotiator for
transboundary water issues and adviser to the foreign minister.
``The most critical issue is that we don't have a law of the
river,'' Szekely said. ``The water has been given on the basis of
concessions instead of water law.''
That creates a problem, especially given that the bilateral
institution created as a referee for treaty disputes over water --
the International Boundary and Water Commission -- has a limited
mandate, he said.
``It only distributes the water and manages the hydrology
infrastructure that holds that water,'' Szekely said. ``... But it
has absolutely no mandate to deal with the sustainable management of
Sally Spener, a spokeswoman for the U.S. section of the
commission, argues that her agency is increasingly taking a more
proactive role on water management issues, especially given the
She points to language in recent agreements between the United
States and Mexico in an ongoing fight over Mexico's water-sharing
obligations under a 1944 treaty. The pacts, which called for
transfers of water to the United States, also addressed water
conservation and the commission's drought management role.
The pacts are amendments to a 1944 treaty stipulating that the
United States and Mexico share water from the Rio Grande and Colorado
River. Mexico has not been meeting its commitment to send the 350,000
acre feet annually and now owes the United States 1.3 million acre
Mexican officials have said their states simply don't have enough
water to send. But Texas officials cite recent heavy rainfall and
point to satellite images they say prove there is now enough water
for Mexico to pay a sizable portion of its water debt.
The Texas fight shows the need for state-level cooperation on
border water management, said Bill Hume, Richardson's director of
policy and issues.
The question is whether it's feasible to get five governors to sit
down and agree on an issue that already has produced bitter battles.
Hume acknowledged ``it would be naive to believe this would be
However, ``with the alternatives being litigation and hard
feelings or negotiation and comprise, clearly it's worth seeing if we
can have more of the latter,'' he said.
A complicating factor that has stalled previous efforts is a
difference in governance between the United States and Mexico, said
Marilyn O'Leary, head of the Utton Transboundary Resources Center.
Water rights are governed at the state level in the United States but
are a federal issue in Mexico, she said.
``So you haven't had a fit in terms of who talks about it or how
it gets talked about,'' O'Leary said.
The Mexican and American federal governments would have to sign
off on an agreement, which could take the form of an addendum to an
existing water treaty, if it were to be binding, Hume said.
Return to the
U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.