HARLINGEN — A bill filed by U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa calling for lining irrigation canals with impervious materials or replacing them with buried pipelines is another attempt to save precious water from seepage and evaporation, a local expert said Thursday.
Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, filed the Lower Rio Grande Valley Water Resources Conservation and Improvement Act of 2013, H.R. 832 “For Upgrading and Modernizing Water Delivery Systems” on Wednesday, the congressman said in a statement.
“Texas is suffering from the effects of one of the most devastating droughts in its history and this is why we must take action on protecting our water supplying the Lower Rio Grande Valley,” Hinojosa said. “This bill builds on projects which were supported by me and authorized by Congress over the years.”
Because Mexico has not complied with terms of the 1944 Guadalupe Water Treaty, the only other effective option is to push for improvement of canals to reduce loss from seepage into the soil and, if possible, evaporation, Hinojosa said in a recent Valley Morning Star interview.
New types of plastic material can be used to line canals more quickly and cheaply than concrete, the congressman said.
But Wayne Halbert, general manager of the Harlingen Irrigation District, which transports the city of Harlingen’s raw water from the Rio Grande, as well as its main job of supplying agricultural water for area farmers, said there are many types of impervious liners for canals.
Some are various types of plastic, some are plastic sprayed with concrete to protect the plastic, he said.
Concrete, which has been widely used to line canals in the Southwest, actually allows water to seep through it, so it is sometimes used in combination with new plastic materials, Halbert said.
“These projects have proved to have provided significant water savings for the Lower Rio Grande Valley over time,” Hinojosa said. “We live in a unique area that is ever growing and evolving in population and its topography. We must ensure our residents have up-to-date equipment to maintain sufficient water flow.”
Main irrigation canals and lateral canals all need improvement in order to stop the loss of water as a critical drought continues, the congressman said.
Installation of water level, flow measurement, pump control and telemetry systems will all help to conserve water for farmers and cities, Hinojosa said. Renovation and replacement of pumping plants is also needed, he said.
Halbert said prospects for obtaining federal funds for canal improvements may seem bleak now with the present budget crisis, but there is no choice but to continue working toward the goal of cutting water loss, he said.
“If you don’t make the effort,” the shortage of water will get worse and worse, Halbert said.
Despite Mexico’s non-compliance with the World War II-era water treaty, the federal government needs to continue to press for compliance but finding ways to stretch the available water must continue at the same time, Halbert said.
“Mexico has never released water under the treaty,” Halbert said. “There has been very little help from the State Department.”
Twelve years ago, a similar bill in Congress allocated $50 million for irrigation improvements, Halbert said. “This is just a rewrite,” he said.
Allen Essex writes for the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.