IBWC demands Mexico make up Rio Grande water flow

The Rio Grande hugs up against the banks near the privately owned land by Neuhaus & Sons at Monday, Dec. 9,2019 in Mission. (Photo by Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

HARLINGEN — The head of the International Boundary and Water Commission has requested Mexico’s government take immediate action to restore its treaty-bound share of Rio Grande water to the United States.

Commissioner Jayne Harkins said Mexico is in violation of the 1944 Water Treaty, which allots shares of the river’s flow to both nations.

“Farmers and cities in South Texas rely on this water to get them through the summer,” Harkins said. “Some irrigation districts will run out of water this year and municipal water districts are having to expend large sums of money to purchase additional water. To comply with the treaty, Mexico must increase its water deliveries.”

It isn’t the first time Mexico has been in arrears on its water balance with the United States. Under the treaty, Rio Grande water is allotted to the United States based on cycles of five years. The current cycle ends on Oct. 24, 2020.

To meet its international obligations, Mexico must deliver an additional 432,360 acre-feet  to the United States between now and the end of the cycle.

As of June 27, with fewer than four months remaining in the current cycle, Mexico has only delivered 1,317,640 acre-feet. The remaining volume yet to be delivered exceeds the 350,000 acre-feet minimum average volume the 1944 Water Treaty requires over an entire year, demonstrating that immediate action is needed, the IBWC said.

Rains in the past two months have eased severe drought conditions in the Rio Grande Valley and northern Mexico, but earlier this year the lack of water led to confrontations at two Mexican dams in Chihuahua state.

In February, Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called out National Guard troops to stop farmers from seizing two dams, the La Boquilla dam and another near the city of Ojinaga.

Both are on the Rio Conchos, a tributary of the Rio Grande. Releasing more water from these tributaries is how Mexico meets its water treaty obligations.

At the time of the attempted dam seizures — farmers did briefly take over the control room of the dam near Ojinaga — the governor of Chihuahua, Javier Corral, stated the water should go to local farmers, and that summer rains would refill reservoirs enough to repay the United States, the Associated Press reported.

“We do not want an international conflict,” Lopez Obrador said at the time. “Treaties have to be lived up to. If we have signed a treaty, we have to comply with it.”

In the current five-year cycle, Mexico kept up with water payments between 2015 and 2017. But since Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018, Mexico has not met its water treaty obligations, the Associated Press said.

An email request to the Mexican consulate in Brownsville for comment was not returned Monday.