U.S.-Mexico Dispute on Water Rights in Rio Grande Resurfaces

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, July 16, 2003 | Go to article overview
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U.S.-Mexico Dispute on Water Rights in Rio Grande Resurfaces


The longstanding dispute between the US and Mexico regarding water rights in the Rio Grande resurfaced after US Ambassador Tony Garza accused Mexico of not doing enough to comply with its commitments under a 1944 treaty. The treaty obligates Mexico to release water from the Rio Grande to farmers in Texas in exchange for water from the Colorado River.

At the beginning of the year, the two countries reached a compromise on allocations for 2003, committing Mexico to release 350,000 acre feet of water by September (see SourceMex, 2003-01-09).

This agreement apparently was not sufficient to appease the US. Speaking at a conference on bilateral relations in Monterrey in early July, Garza said Mexico had not made enough effort to fulfill the terms of the treaty. He said Mexico had only turned over 60% of the water committed under the treaty.

Statements by US ambassador create uproar in Mexico

Garza's statement created an uproar among Mexican legislators, northern governors, and water-management officials. Cristobal Jaime Jacquez, director of the Comision Nacional de Agua, accused Garza of exaggerating the extent of the problem. "We only owe 13 million cubic feet of water to the US," said Jacquez.

Federal Deputy Simon Villar Martinez of the former governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) said Mexico's domestic needs should take precedence over obligations to the US. "We do not have the reserves needed to pay the debt," said Villar, who coordinates the PRI's congressional delegation from Tamaulipas. "The ones who would suffer the most from this action are our farmers."

Since taking office in 2000, President Vicente Fox has made partial payments on the water, even though this has caused him problems at home (see SourceMex, 2001-04-18 and 2002-07-31).

Agriculture producers in Tamaulipas have been especially vocal in their opposition to turning over water from the Rio Grande to the US (see SourceMex, 2001-04-18). Villar noted the decision has also harmed farmers in Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Nuevo Leon states.

The PRI governors of Chihuahua and Coahuila states recently suggested that they would refuse to turn over water from state reservoirs to pay the water debt to the US.

Coahuila Gov. Enrique Martinez y Martinez said the government failed to meet its commitment to allocate 600 million pesos (US$57.69 billion) for water projects in his state after it turned over water from local reservoirs to the US. "We are being fooled by the government into turning over our water," said Martinez y Martinez.

In neighboring Chihuahua, a defiant Gov. Patricio Martinez Garcia said he would refuse to turn over any more water because northern Mexico remains in a drought. "I invite those critics who say that Mexico is not complying with its agreement to visit Chihuahua and even go north into Colorado and New Mexico so they can see that the effects of a drought are regional," said Martinez Garcia.

US legislator proposes controversial solution

The rhetoric is just as strong on the US side, with legislators representing South Texas urging US President George W.

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