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Posted on Jun 4, 2024 in Editorial, Featured, News Releases

Mexico’s disregard for U.S. water treaty has Texas farmers on the brink

Mexico’s disregard for U.S. water treaty has Texas farmers on the brink

By Brian Jones, Hidalgo County farmer

I’ve been farming 38 years in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. This year represents an unfortunate first for me. I planted crops without irrigation water.

Why? Because Mexico is not delivering water it owes the U.S., according to a long-standing agreement.

I only planted half my farm this year. I’ve had to let go of some employees entirely and reduce the work hours of others in anticipation of financial losses.

I am not alone. The Texas sugarcane industry and its 500 jobs ended in February because of a lack of irrigation water for its crops. The Texas citrus industry might soon follow. The same fate could befall Valley vegetables and other fruits.

Overall, the Valley stands to lose $495.8 million this year in total crop production due to the lack of irrigation water, according to a December report from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

The 1944 Water Treaty was designed to be a water sharing agreement between the two nations.

I'm a fourth-generation farmer, meaning my grandfather and great-grandfather were farming here in the Rio Grande Valley when the treaty was negotiated. Eighty years later, I'm not in any better situation than they were before the treaty.

Mexico is now more than 850,000 acre-feet behind its commitment with one year left in the five-year cycle, according to the treaty. Texas farmers are out of water. 

The only plan Mexico has for sharing water with the U.S. is to wait on a well-placed tropical storm to send water that it can’t capture.

In 1944, Mexico had three dams on the six named tributaries of the treaty. Today, there are 11 dams on those tributaries. Rio Grande Valley water users believe this altered the treaty entirely or at least its original intent. 

In August 2022, a large rain event passed over the watershed of the Rio Grande. The rain event allowed Mexico to capture 2.2 million acre-feet of water, and its response was to withhold all the water behind its dams and not share any with the U.S. or with their fellow countrymen in Tamaulipas. For every acre-foot Mexico is supposed to deliver to the U.S., it is also supposed to deliver two-acre feet to the state of Tamaulipas. 

Without the construction of the post-1944 dams, Mexico would be very close to its “average annual” deliveries today, and Texas would still have a sugarcane industry. Those same dams have allowed Mexico to increase its irrigated farmland by tens of thousands of acres in the last 25 years, as a Google Earth time lapse shows.   

Texas farmers and ranchers are proud of the Texas Congressional delegation for its support and putting Mexico on notice that the water treaty must be followed. If it takes withholding U.S. tax dollars to Mexico to leverage a reaction, so be it.

I traveled to Washington, D.C., in April and visited with U.S. State Department officials about the water crisis. They listened, but there didn’t seem much appetite to do anything about it.

It’s been stated Mexico fulfilled its treaty obligations to the U.S. in 2020. It’s important to note Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador did so by transferring ownership of Mexican water in Falcon and Amistad dams to the U.S., not by releasing any water into the Rio Grande.

We can talk about drought, and we can talk about climate change, but without Mexico upholding its end of a signed treaty, then that talk just becomes excuses.

Data from the International Boundary and Water Commission, the agency that oversees the agreement, shows that Mexico has more than 1,175,000 acre-feet in storage in tributaries of the treaty. Mexico has only delivered about a fifth of its water obligations to the U.S.

Waiting on the weather for irrigation water is not a great plan, but it seems like a better plan than waiting on Mexico.

Brian Jones of Edcouch grows irrigated cotton, corn, grain sorghum and soybeans in Hidalgo County.

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