Mi rio, mi agua

 

TEXAS

Tension over Rio Grande water - or the lack of it - is rising to an all-time high. Under the terms of a 1944 treaty, Mexico owes the U.S. almost 1.5 million acre-feet (456 billion gallons) of water - a debt the country amassed over the last decade of drought. The shortage is leaving farmers in south Texas bone-dry (HCN, 2/18/02). Now, a much-anticipated plan to repay Mexico's massive water debt to the U.S. has left residents on both sides of the border as anxious as ever.

In late June, after months of negotiations, Mexico agreed to deliver 90,000 acre-feet to Texas in return for a multimillion dollar U.S. loan that would help Mexico modernize its inefficient water infrastructure. Texas farmers got the water they had been pleading for within a week, but it came with a catch: Mexico can ask for a water refund if significant rain does not fall in Chihuahua by late October.

Though Texas farmers were desperate for the water, the short-term deal angers them. "It's a slap in the face," says Jo Jo White, manager of the largest water district in south Texas. "It just gives us a false sense of security."

And while 90,000 acre-feet is no drop in the bucket, it's only 6 percent of Mexico's total debt. It's "like a down payment," says Carlos Pena of the International Boundary and Water Commission. The two nations plan to negotiate longer-term repayment plans at a water summit later this summer. Until rain falls, Pena says, there's not much Mexico can do.