U.S. Water News Online
AUSTIN, Texas -- It seems the more Texans learn about the
state's water issues, the more complicated it becomes.
A research report issued in early 2004 details the specifics
behind the water war between the United States and Texas, and how it
is specifically affecting Texas agricultural producers.
According to the report which included papers by Susan Combs,
Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner (TDA); Katharine
Armstrong, former chair of Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (TPW);
and Kathleen Hartnett White, chair, Texas Commission on Environmental
Quality (TCEQ), problems with Texas water issues are not a new issue.
What is new are the issues that have been addressed in recent
years ... either in the Texas Legislature or under the North American
Free Trade Agreement, signed by the United States, Canada and Mexico,
which took effect in 1994. Agreements really go back to 1944 when the
United States and Mexico created a "U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty" which
governed and divided the flow of water in the Rio Grande Basin from
the Rio Grande and certain tributaries in the United States and
According to a report prepared for Combs by the Center for Space
Research, University of Texas at Austin, the Treaty stated "...
Mexico must provide, at a minimum, an average of 350,000 acre feet of
water per year to the United States over a five-year cycle for a
total of 1,750,000 acre feet of water."
Under the 1944 agreement, Mexico was expected to send the United
States (California and Arizona receive Colorado River water, too)
350,000 acre feet of water each year, which would come from six Rio
Grande tributaries. The United States was, in turn, to send Mexico
1.5 million acre feet of water from the Colorado River.
Over the past 60 years, Texans and agricultural producers ...
especially those in the Rio Grande area ... have expected Mexico to
abide by the agreement signed in 1944. Unfortunately, it just hasn't
After years of losing land, money and producers due to a lack of
water, 17 irrigation districts, North Alamo Water Supply Corporation,
and 29 farmers sent notice to Mexican officials that, under the NAFTA
agreement of 1994, unless Mexico delivers what is due, they will seek
up to $500 million in damages from the Mexican government. The suit
is being handled by Marzulla & Marzulla, attorneys at law located
in Washington, D.C. If nothing is accomplished by the end of the
year, it is expected that a federal suit will be filed under NAFTA.
"Mexico has unlawfully taken over 1,000,000 acre feet of Texas
water and given it to Mexican farmers so their farmers can grow
crops. All while the crops of farmers in the Rio Grande Valley have
dried up and blown away," said Nancie Marzulla, attorney for the
claimants in a recent press release.
According to Combs and recent reports from the Center for North
American Studies, CNAS 2003-4, Department of Agricultural Economics,
Texas A&M University, College Station, "... irrigated water use
from surface and groundwater sources in Chihuahua (Mexico) more than
doubled from 1980 to 1997.
"President Fox has not demonstrated a sincere willingness to work
to resolve the treaty issue," noted Combs on Oct. 26 from her office
on the 11th floor of the Stephen F. Austin building, which overlooks
the Capitol and downtown Austin.
The most accurate figures into Combs' office indicate the
"official" figure of water in Mexico was 1.42 million acre feet, plus
additional water in reservoirs identified in satellite imagery. That
does not include recent, heavy rains in Chihuahua in October,
according to Gordon Wells of the University of Texas. Plenty of water
to repay the United States, according to the agreement.
What happens in the future is anyone's guess. What Combs and other
Texas officials are aware of is that the water is there for Mexico to
return to the United States. Satellite photos show there is an
abundance of water in Mexico. Fortunately, the Rio Grande Valley of
Texas has received a lot of rain, this year, but an agreement is an
agreement, officials feel.
While the state of Texas and its farmers do not have a legal right
to demand the return of the water owed to the state and its
producers, a suit through NAFTA has a legal "leg to stand on" for
water rights, stated Combs.
Although the Mexico/Texas water problems have received a lot of
publicity of late, Combs believes that rural producers need to be
vigilant concerning water rights in their areas.
"Ground water conservation districts give the local guys the best
opportunities to determine their future," said Combs.
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