Mexico owes Texas water. And as the current drought presses onward, Texas politicians are trying to turn up the heat to get Mexico to pay.
Last Friday, the Texas House voted unanimously on a resolution that the federal government should pressure Mexico deliver water to the United States. The same week, Governor Rick Perry sent a letter to President Barack Obama, asking him and Secretary of State John Kerry to do the same thing:
"Without immediate and direct action from the White House and the U.S, Department of State, Texans along the Rio Grande will continue to suffer from a lack of available water," Perry wrote, "due to Mexico's failure to adhere to the terms of the 1944 Water Treaty between our two countries."
Under the 1944 treaty, in exchange for water from the Colorado River, Mexico is obligated to deliver water to the United States from six tributaries that feed into the Rio Grande every five years -- 1.75 million acre-feet of water to be exact. An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes for an acre of land to flood with a foot of water, over 325,000 gallons.
Since the start of this current five-year cycle in October of 2010, Mexico has delivered 407,980 acre-feet of that 1.75 million total, about half of the amount it would be if Mexico wasn't making inconsistent deliveries.
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But according to Sally Spener, a spokesperson for the International Boundary and Water Commission -- the international body that oversees the boundary and water treaties and agreements between the United States and Mexico -- there's no delinquency yet. The treaty doesn't technically say Mexico has to provide an annual minimum of water, but rather the total 1.75 million acre-feet volume by the end of the five-year period. "But in the event of extraordinary drought," she says, "Mexico has to pay the deficit in the following five year cycle."
For context, the U.S. is also under agreement to deliver water to Mexico. According to a 1906 treaty, the States agreed to deliver 60,000 acre-feet of water to Mexico on an annual basis, with the exception of extreme drought or accidents with its conveyance system, the Elephant Butte Dike. Unlike the 1944 treaty though, if the U.S. doesn't deliver its total water to Mexico one year, it's under no obligation to make up that difference the next. And because of the drought afflicting the region, delivery has been slowed on both sides.
In 2012 the U.S. delivered 20 percent of the 60,000 acre-feet and that makes no impact on the total for 2013. Any reductions the U.S. makes in its deliveries to Mexico is proportional to the amount of water the Elephant Butte Dike delivers to American lands. So if Mexico gets 20 percent, then the American side gets 20 percent too. So far this year the U.S. made no deliveries toward that 60,000 acre-feet total.
As the Texas Tribune reports, irrigation districts in South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley could likely dry out by this summer if the drought persists and Mexico still doesn't manage to deliver more water. In 2005, after recovering from drought in the 1990s, Mexico finally managed to pay off a water debt that had grown to 1.5 million acre-feet, almost 500 billion gallons of water.