Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

MEDIA ADVISORY FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, November 15, 2002
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez
Phone: (512) 463-0127

Proposals made at Senate Subcommittee on Border Affairs hearing in Austin over 1944 U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty

AUSTIN, TX - Recommendations ranging from continuing diplomatic tactics to exerting more force on Mexico over the water owed the United States under the 1944 U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty were expressed yesterday at the Senate Subcommittee on Border Affairs hearing chaired by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville).

"We heard excellent testimony that gave us options as we continue to pursue the best route for pressuring Mexico into repaying the 1.5 million acre-feet of water they owe our South Texas farmers," said Sen. Lucio. "However, I intend to continue exploring any legal avenues available to us."

Attorney General-elect Greg Abbott assured Sen. Lucio of his commitment to working with him to help solve the water repayment problem. "I will use any and all legal tools available to the office of Attorney General (AG) to help Texans get the water they deserve. To the extent we run into a wall with regard to being able to use those legal tools, I will use diplomatic efforts to obtain the water Texans deserve."

Representatives from Attorney General John Cornyn's office said that they see significant legal obstacles in trying to sue the United States government, because the Treaty is between two sovereign nations and does not give Texas or its citizens private rights. In other words, there is no provision for either Texas or South Texas growers to sue for compensation of crop losses or the repayment of the water debt. However, the Texas AG representatives indicated that they continue to look for other legal options but would not elaborate because they felt their efforts could be thwarted if their "opponents" (Mexico) became aware of their plans at this time.

Under the Treaty, the United States is entitled to a minimum annual average of 350,000 acre-feet of water from six Mexican tributaries to the Rio Grande. While delivery can be more or less than 350,000 acre-feet in any given year, they must average at least 350,000 acre-feet annually at the end of a five-year cycle. October 2 was the conclusion of the 1997-2002 five-year cycle.

United States Commissioner for the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), Carlos M. Ramirez, said that if Mexico fails to meet the demands of the Water Treaty, the United States would exercise sanctions against Mexico, but he was not at liberty to reveal them. He did note that the State Department has "plans that will be put in motion shortly against Mexico."

Also testifying was Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, who said that the current Treaty is too ambiguous, particularly as it relates to the term "extraordinary drought" under which Mexico is not required to pay back the water, and for which there is no definition. She reported that all lines of evidence, including records from the Mexican government lead to the conclusion that there has not been a "decade-long" drought (often cited in comments by Mexican officials) or an extraordinary drought. Another point Commissioner Combs made was that Chihuahua has built dams and accumulated huge reserves during the last 10 years, the period of time for which Mexico owes the United States water.

Recommendations by Commissioner Combs included writing a new treaty with clear definitions; approaching negotiations by addressing the struggle between Mexico's national water policy and Chihuahua's state water policy; and determining the impact on Texas farmers from the large quantities of produce grown in the town of Delicias, Chihuahua and exported to the United States. The possibility of restraining or constraining water from the Colorado River that is given to Mexico was also on her agenda. After mentioning the Border Environment Infrastructure Fund (BEIF) $75 million given to Mexico for projects with positive impact on the U.S. side and the economic development dollars given to Mexico, Commissioner Combs suggested that the Texas administration ask Congress to address compensating South Texas farmers for their losses totaling 30,000 jobs and $1 billion in personal income, plus a decline of more than 100,000 acres of farmland.

Sen. Lucio then asked Commissioner Combs if Texas has any recourse in obtaining the water through NAFTA, and she responded that NAFTA has no provisions for agricultural trade sanctions.

At the end of the hearing, Sen. Lucio expressed satisfaction with the progress made. In his closing remarks, he said:

"I believe we have accomplished the goal of this hearing. We had representatives and public officials from all the major statewide offices give their commitment and support to solving our crisis. They have all agreed to use all avenues available to get Mexico to honor the 1944 Treaty.

Rest assured I will not let this issue be put on the back burner. If we cannot get this issue resolved before the upcoming 78th Legislative Session, I will lead groups to Washington and Mexico.

I will urge talks to continue until we reach a solution. We all must stand together for the people of South Texas-- the families, the farmers, the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on an adequate water supply, who depend on the resources of the Rio Grande River.

We must keep pressure on the U. S. State Department, our congressmen and senators to ensure that this issue, this crisis, is on the top of their agendas. They must heed our call to action and the voices of those in need."

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