Subcommittee Works to Address Dry Times in Texas
AUSTIN - The Senate Subcommittee on Border Affairs met Thursday, November 14, 2002 to discuss the 1944 US-Mexico water treaty. The treaty was originally aimed at sharing water of the Rio Grande, Colorado River, and Tijuana River, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. The terms of the treaty have not been met because water from tributaries in Mexico has not reached the U.S., and Texas' water supply is suffering as a direct result.
Texas Attorney General John Cornyn has been working on the issue this year, setting up the Rio Grande Water Rights Task Force. Attorney General Elect Greg Abbott made a brief appearance before the Subcommittee to announce that he plans to follow up on Cornyn's work. Testimony continued with a series of public officials and experts.
As Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs pointed out in her testimony, the Mexico border region has three times the stored water that the Texas border region has. Representing Texas Secretary of State Gwyn Shea was Helena Colyandro who informed the committee that Shea and Governor Rick Perry presented an issue of noncompliance, which outlines the water debt, to President Bush, who in turn gave it to Mexico President Vicente Fox. Eddie Solis of the office of Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander reiterated that the treaty calls for 350,000 acre feet of water delivered annually, accounted for in five years cycles.
The water debt accrued throughout the 1990s was required to have been made up by October 2002. Jeff Boyd, Deputy Director for Litigation with Cornyn's office pointed out that Texas cannot sue Mexico or any political subdivision for the water, nor can Texas sue the United States for not following up on the water debt. Carlos Ramirez, Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission, also testified. Ramirez stated that it is not so much a matter of Mexico not having the water, but more of a political tangle in the Mexican Government. Margaret Hoffman and Robert Huston of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality also brought insightful testimony on the cleanliness of water currently running through the Rio Grande.
A group of experts, including Brian Jones of Texas Farm Bureau; Ray Prewitt of Texas Citrus Mutual; Jo Jo White of Mercedes Irrigation District; Wayne Halbert of Harlingen Irrigation Districts; and Gordon Hill with the Bay View Irrigation District all testified on the $2.2 billion in economic losses and 21,000 jobs since 1996 that has affected drought-stricken Valley farmers, citrus growers and other water users as well as the disappointment in the lack of good faith by Mexico. The men reiterated their willingness to help the subcommittee or any necessary task force.
Subcommittee members include Senators Frank Madla, Eliot Shapleigh, and Leticia Van de Putte. The subcommittee is chaired by Senator Eddie Lucio Jr.
"Key meetings will be taking place soon in Mexico City," Lucio said, "and with all the new team leaders, hopefully we can bring major players to the table from both sides of the border and work on a master plan to help bring in that water. Rest assured I will not let this issue go to the back burner," Lucio addressed to the crowd.
The subcommittee recessed subject to the call of the chair.