Mar 20, 2001

Mexico, US Reach Water Repayment Agreement

As part of a repayment timetable announced Monday at the White House, Mexico will deliver nearly 200 billion gallons of water into the Rio Grande this year.
U.S. and Mexican officials also agreed on an unspecified ``framework for reaching agreements'' on future deliveries required by Mexico under a 1944 treaty governing waters in the Rio Grande, Colorado and Tijuana Rivers.
``This agreement effectively resolves the question of distribution of Rio Grande waters for this year's agricultural season and establishes the basis for addressing the issue in a spirit of cooperation over the medium- to long-term,'' White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said in a statement.
``Senior officials of our two countries also agreed to a comprehensive, expert-level look at ways we can enhance cooperation in managing water resources in the Rio Grande basin.''
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, called it ``one good-faith step'' and pressed for an additional plan to repay the additional 800,000 acre-feet that Mexico still owes. ``The loss of the water has been devastating, but this repayment will help to make this year's growing season more productive,'' Hutchison said.
Under the 57-year-old U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty, Mexico is required annually to release approximately 350,000 acre feet — or 114 billion gallons — of water from six tributaries to the Rio Grande. In exchange, the United States is to deliver 1.5 million acre feet of water per year from the Colorado River. (An acre-foot is the quantity of water that would cover one acre to a depth of one foot — about 326,000 gallons.)
However, Mexican water flow to the Rio Grande stopped in 1992 because of drought and development related to the North American Free Trade Agreement. This resulted in Mexico accumulating 1.4 million acre feet of water debt.
With South Texas' two reservoirs filled to only 43 percent of their capacity, winter rains failed to lift water levels in South Texas reservoirs enough to help irrigation farmers.
The International Water and Boundary Commission had been pushing Mexico to guarantee delivery of 605,000 acre feet of water by July 28, a date that would ensure the water is available for irrigation farmers.