Texas Asks for Feds' Help Getting Water from Mexico

Gov. Rick Perry and a number of Texas politicians are seeking help from the Obama administration to hold Mexico to its treaty obligations to release water from the Rio Grande to Texas cities along the border.
by | April 10, 2013

By Kate Galbraith

Gov. Rick Perry, joining a chorus of Texas politicians, wants Mexico to release more river water to Texas.

In a letter to President Obama dated April 9, Perry urged the president and the State Department to press Mexico to release more water from Rio Grande tributaries, under the terms of a 1944 treaty between the two countries.

“Without immediate and direct action from the White House and U.S. Department of State, Texans along the Rio Grande will continue to suffer from a lack of available water,” Perry wrote.

Perry said that the Obama administration was not pushing Mexico hard enough.

“Unfortunately, the state of Texas is not receiving the support from your administration that is needed to obtain our water from Mexico,” he wrote to Obama.

Mexico released some water last week, but U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, called it a “pittance.” (Officials are still trying to figure out how much was released, but one early estimate was 7,000 acre-feet.) Under the terms of the 1944 treaty, Mexico is supposed to deliver water to the U.S. from six tributaries that feed into the Rio Grande, in exchange for water from the Colorado River. The Mexican government is required to release 1,750,000 acre-feet of water every five years. (An acre-foot is nearly 326,000 gallons of water.)

Mexico has two years left on the current five-year cycle. So while the country is not technically in default on its water obligations, it is currently behind by more than 400,000 acre-feet, Texas officials say. Perry noted that the total water used by the Lower Rio Grande Valley’s 1.5 million residents stands at 275,000 acre-feet.

Drought has hit the Valley especially hard, and 14 cities have received notices that local irrigation districts could run out of water in 60 days, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. (Sixteen notices have been issued in total, meaning a few cities got more than one notice.) Such notices signal big problems for cities, because the agricultural water is used to “carry” municipal water — in other words, to help it flow. Municipalities will have to find expensive new supplies to substitute for the “carrying” water.

Water quality is also becoming a concern as water levels in reservoirs and the Rio Grande drop, according to The Monitor, a Valley publication.

The Texas Tribune  |  The Texas Tribune

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