EDITORIAL: Our water rights -- Mexico needs to pay us what is owes - The Monitor: Opinion

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EDITORIAL: Our water rights -- Mexico needs to pay us what is owes

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Posted: Friday, August 16, 2013 12:01 am

Tensions were understandably high during a meeting of the Rio Grande Valley Citizens Forum on Wednesday as local residents — including many Valley farmers — openly questioned whether Mexico is fulfilling its obligations to the United States under an international water treaty.

These are appropriate questions as a severe drought continues to plague the Valley.

Under the 1944 Water Treaty, Mexico is supposed to deliver an annual average of 350,000 acre-feet of water from the Rio Grande to the U.S. during a five-year period. However, they are woefully behind due to the ongoing drought and it appears unlikely that Mexico will be able to fulfill its obligation by its October 2015 deadline.

That has American farmers in the Valley, as well as local municipalities, rightfully stressing over whether they will have enough water in upcoming years for fields and towns. It’s also obviously put international relations in an awkward position over something that is tantamount to everyone’s survival.

U.S. International Boundary and Water Commissioner Principal Engineer Carlos Peña said that as of Aug. 3, Mexico has delivered only 58 percent of what would be expected. He obviously was trying to put a good spin on it, telling the 50 people in attendance at the IBWC facilities in Mercedes: “Back in May, that was at 46 percent.”

But that didn’t seem to appease the crowd much. Nor should it because the amount Mexico delivered is miniscule compared to what we are owed.

We need water and we need it now.

 “It seems in recent years that Mexico is always behind,” shouted one man. “Are they waiting for a big rainy period or are they waiting for a new treaty?”

“It seems to me they’re keeping the water over there,” another man said. “We’re in a hell of a bad shape here ... and it seems we’re still playing footsies with them.”

During the 90-minute presentation, Peña mentioned repeatedly a recent meeting between Tony Wayne, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and several high-level Mexican officials — including the IBWC commissioners for both countries. Yet he failed to detail specifically what, if anything, is being done to right the water deficit other than to say talks are being held and more meetings are scheduled.

When asked by a member of The Monitor editorial board whether Wayne or others had directly asked Mexican officials if they were improperly withholding water, he told us that the question has not come up.

Why not? Isn’t that the giant elephant in the room? If there is any hint of impropriety, our leaders need to ask the tough questions and get the water flowing back upstream to our lands.

Peña told us that while that might have been suspected a few decades ago, advanced technology allows U.S. officials to monitor Mexican water levels and to ensure that they are releasing the amounts they claim.

Under the 1944 treaty, Mexico is supposed to deliver to the U.S. water from six tributaries to the Rio Grande. We are to get one-third of the flow (while Mexico keeps two-thirds) and that cannot fall below an annual average of 350,000 acre-feet over five years. But the treaty also stipulates that if Mexico is unable to make these deposits, the country has up to five years to deliver the water. That happened in the early 2000s.

Mexico was to have delivered by 2002 on a cycle that started in 1997 but the country didn’t fully pay us all the water it owed until 2007 — the tenth year.

We can’t have a repeat of that. We commend U.S. officials for being more aggressive by initiating talks years before the cycle’s 2015 deadline. But it doesn’t seem we’re seeing much results, other than rain delivered by Mother Nature.

Another meeting is scheduled in the next couple of weeks; hopefully it will yield more action and details, and more water for us soon.

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