WESLACO — U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela Jr., D-Brownsville, said he has no assurance that President Barack Obama will discuss the water debt owed to Texas farmers when he meets with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto today in Mexico City.
Vela said it is unfair that the United States has always complied with the 1944 Water Treaty, always releasing required amounts of water from the Colorado River into the Rio Grande, while Mexico ignores its obligations.
Vela made his remarks during a news conference held in the same room where, earlier in the day, a heated morning meeting of the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority was held.
At the water authority meeting, board members voted to use all available funding in the RGRWA budget for a media blitz to make Congress and U.S. taxpayers aware that Mexico is ignoring the water treaty and building new dams and reservoirs to hold back water in violation of the treaty.
Valley farmers, irrigation district managers and other agriculture leaders expressed their anger with Mexico for holding back water that could help prevent a disaster for Valley agriculture.
RGRWA board members said there is serious talk of farmers blockading international bridges with tractors to send a message to Mexico.
Joe Barrera, executive director of the RGRWA, said the group cannot approve civil disobedience such as blocking bridges or highways. However, he said that members may urge the public to boycott U.S. companies such as Dole, Green Giant and Del Monte that grow vegetables “with our water” to compete with Texas farmers whose crops are withering in a drought.
Brian Macmanus, secretary-treasurer of the group’s board, said the RGRWA cannot do anything illegal, but “we certainly aren’t going to stand in their way,” he said of tractors possibly blocking bridges or other forms of protest.
“There has to be one single message,” said Oscar Montoya, emergency management coordinator for Hidalgo County.
The drought is a public emergency and could result in economic disaster for South Texas, he said.
But some leaders of cities or county precincts don’t seem concerned, board members said.
“Some people are saying that ‘My area’s fine, we don’t have a problem,’” Montoya said.
George Garrett, representing the city of Weslaco, asked if federal emergency disaster aid might be used to aid drought-stricken cities and farmers.
Vela said he has been unable to find out if the issue will be on the agenda for the meeting between the two leaders.
“Under the 1944 treaty, Mexico is obligated to deliver 350,000 acre-feet of water per year to us and they have repeatedly failed,” the congressman said. Mexico is more than 400,000 acre-feet short of its obligation in the current five-year treaty cycle, he added.
“During the last two months, members of the Texas (congressional) border delegation have met with the secretary of state and sent letters to the president,” Vela said. “As of today, we have no indication. … Nobody ever told us. The silence on the side of the administration is deafening,” Vela said.
Farmers and cities in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas are also suffering because of water being held in other Mexican states such as Chihuahua, Vela said.
Vela vowed to keep up pressure on the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission and on Mexico through public opinion.
Frank “Jo Jo” White, general manager of Hidalgo-Cameron Irrigation District No. 1 based in Mercedes, asked Vela if anyone had reminded President Obama that, even though Texas is mostly a “red” state, the Valley overwhelmingly supported Democrats in past elections.
While Texas farmers suffer through a record drought, Mexico has plenty of water and, by all accounts, has never met its obligations under the 1944 Water Treaty, Vela said.
Water experts say Mexico has always waited until a hurricane or other storms paid the water it owed to the United States, Vela said.
The congressman distributed copies of a proposed bill that would compel the U.S. Secretary of State to make annual reports to Congress about
efforts by Mexico to meet its treaty deliveries of water to the Rio Grande based on the treaty between the U.S. and Mexico.
The bill would also consider U.S. contributions to Mexico such as “cooperative measures in the Colorado River Basin through 2017.”
and “cooperative measures to address continued effects of the 2010 earthquake in the Mexicali Valley, Baja California.”
Vela said he also has another bill calling for further pressure on Mexico waiting on his desk in Washington, D.C.
Rio Hondo Mayor Alonzo Garza said his city is being bankrupted by the cost of “push water” to get drinking water through a long canal system.
“I worry about the elderly people and the low income, those who cannot afford sky-high water bills we’re going to have to charge to pay for that push water,” the mayor said after Vela’s news conference.
Allen Essex writes for the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.