Mexico Proposes Plan for Water Debt

Mexico has proposed to pay off its water debt to the United States within five years without imposing strict conservation measures on its population.
The National Water Commission proposal would increase Mexico's annual water payment to the United States under a 1944 treaty from 114 billion gallons a year to 180 billion gallons for the next five years. The treaty governs the water flow of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers.
That would reduce the debt from its current 502 billion gallons to 180 billion gallons. The panel did not explain how it would pay off the remaining deficit.
The commission also did not detail where it would draw the extra water from. Levels in the Mexican rivers used to repay the debts have declined 71 percent over the last nine years. And the country has been plagued by drought. Prospects for rainfall during this year's rainy season, typically running from May to October, also remain grim, Agriculture Secretary Javier Usabiaga told a news conference Monday in central Hidalgo state.
Usabiaga said, however, that Mexico should be able to make the higher annual water payments without reducing the amount available to people here if the country uses its supply efficiently.
One of the reasons Mexico's water supply has dwindled so much is that many people have dipped into the reserves illegally, Usabiaga said. The government plans to crack down on unauthorized users as one way to preserve the remaining supply.
The water commission report also outlined several water-saving measures — such as improving irrigation technology and conservation programs in cities — but it did not provide details about when or how they would be implemented.
Mexico is facing mounting criticism from farmers and politicians in south Texas, who claim that crops in Mexico's upriver Rio Grande watershed are flourishing while those in South Texas are dying — allegedly because Mexico has not kept up with its end of the treaty.
Under the treaty, Mexico receives 1.8 billion acre feet of water a year from the United States, four times the amount it gives to its northern neighbor. One acre foot equals 325,851 gallons, the amount necessary to cover one acre of land with one foot of water.
Mexico contributes water to the United States from six rivers flowing into the Rio Conchos in the northern Chihuahua state. The Rio Conchos flows into the Rio Grande, which Texas farmers rely on for irrigation.
Mexico and the United States control water flow through a series of dams. In recent years, Mexico has not released enough water from the Rio Conchos because it feared levels would drop so low that Mexicans would not have enough.

The Associated Press

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