Controversies over Water Rights, Nadbank & Mexican Election Arise at Border Governors Conference

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, August 30, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Controversies over Water Rights, Nadbank & Mexican Election Arise at Border Governors Conference

By Carlos Navarro from Austin, Texas

LADB Staff Writer

Mexican and US governors made a strong effort to present a picture of harmony at the 24th annual Border Governors Conference in Austin, Texas, on Aug. 24-25, particularly when discussing immigration and security (see other article in this issue of SourceMex) and bilateral agreements. Every governor mentioned cooperation in his or her closing remarks, whether it was a bilateral agreement between Arizona and Sonora to expedite the flow of cargo through border crossings or one between New Mexico and Coahuila to coordinate education programs. However, governors and invited speakers briefly alluded to several disagreements during opening and closing remarks, including a dispute between the US and Mexico on water rights from the Colorado River and a controversial proposal by President Vicente Fox's administration to eliminate funding for the North American Development Bank (NADBANK).

A statement by Texas Gov. Rick Perry referring to presidential candidate Felipe Calderon of the center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) as president-elect also caused a stir at the conference because Mexican electoral authorities had not declared a winner at that point.

Concern raised about plan to pave All-American Canal

Water rights remain a problem for Mexico and the US although the two countries were able to resolve one of their biggest headaches last year. For the past decade, Mexico and the US had been at odds because of Mexico's failure to comply with its commitment under a 1944 water treaty to release 350,000 acre-feet of water from reservoirs on the Rio Grande to Texas annually in exchange for 1.5 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River. Years of extreme drought in northern Mexico kept Mexico from meeting its commitment, resulting in a large accumulation of water "debt" (see SourceMex, 1996-03-07, 1999-05-26, 2003-04-22).

The dispute reached such bitter proportions that a group of ranchers and municipalities, with support from Gov. Perry, threatened to file a US$500 million claim under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to force the Mexican government to comply with the treaty (see SourceMex, 2004-09-01).

After months of negotiations, the two countries reached an agreement in 2005 involving a short-term release of water to make up for the deficit of recent years and a long-term strategy to prevent future disputes (see SourceMex, 2005-04-07).

While the dispute regarding water rights on the Rio Grande appears to have been resolved, the two countries are now engaged in a strong disagreement about water rights on the Colorado River. The controversy centers on a decision by the US government to reinforce with concrete a portion of the 80-mi (130-km) All-American Canal, which carries water from the Colorado River. Paving the canal, which supplies water to farmers in California's Imperial Valley, reduces seepage. Mexico opposes the move, since 90% of the seepage ends up in Baja California, benefiting small-scale farmers and wetlands (see SourceMex, 2006-03-22).

Juan Bosco Marti Ascencio, director of North American affairs at the Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores (SRE), told the border governors that the issue is important to President Vicente Fox's administration. He suggested that federal and state officials from both countries sit down and forge a solution similar to the one developed for the Rio Grande. "With this spirit of cooperation, we must continue addressing the challenges that we face in the Colorado River Basin, such as lining the All-American Canal," Marti Ascencio told the border governors.

Coahuila governor brings up NADBANK controversy

Another controversy that surfaced during the governors' closing statements was the Fox administration's lukewarm support for NADBANK, an agency created under NAFTA to help fund infrastructure projects along the US-Mexico border, which has had moderate success.

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