- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

BROWNSVILLE, Texas, Jan. 10 (UPI) — A U.S.-Mexico agreement announced Friday promises Mexico will release more water into the Rio Grande to benefit South Texas farmers battling to survive a five-year drought.

Mexican dams will release at least 400,000 acre-feet of water into the river before September of next year, although 50,000 acre-feet are dependent on the weather, the State Department announced.

"The United States particularly welcomes that more than 200,000 acre-feet of new water will be available by the end of January, in time for the current growing season," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher in Washington.

Representatives of the two countries are to meet later this month to discuss how the commitments of a critical 1944 water treaty will be addressed in the framework of Mexico's emerging domestic water allocation plan, he said.

"In addition to treaty compliance, the United States and Mexico seek to ensure a reliable and predictable water supply during both periods of scarcity and of abundant rainfall," he said. "Both countries will also continue efforts toward resolving the outstanding water deficit of some 1.5 million acre-feet."

An acre-foot is the amount of irrigation water it takes to cover one acre to a depth of one foot or about 43,000 cubic feet.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was "disappointed" in the agreement and farmers and irrigation officials in the Rio Grande Valley had mixed feelings.

Perry questioned the "Enron-type accounting" used to come up with the formulas and believes the amount of water released will be less than promised, spokesman Gene Acuna said in Austin.

"The governor would like the State Department to continue to press Mexico for delivery of water as specified in the treaty and to tie all negotiations to a long-term delivery plan," he said.

The sore point with Texas interests is the outstanding water debt of 1.5 million acre-feet that Mexico has built up since 1992. As part of its treaty obligation, the United States has always released its share of Colorado River water to benefit Mexico.

Mexico's refusal to release its share of water from dams mainly in the state of Chihuahua has cost the South Texas agriculture community $1 billion and more than 10,000 jobs over the past five years.

In the valley, Don Hill, general manager of the Bayview Irrigation District, said the agreement announced Friday was "a good first step" but the big questions remain to be answered.

"This is only a short-term plan," he said. "It has nothing to do with paying the long-term debt."

Hill said the Jan. 27 meeting will be important and the negotiations will continue.

The timing of the new pact will help farmers now planning their crops for the rest of the new year. The lack of adequate irrigation water cost most of them their vegetable crops last year.

In October, angry South Texas farmers and state officials called for the U.S. government to impose economic sanctions against Mexico for its continued failure to release water under the 1944 treaty. There were protests by Texas farmers and their counterparts in Mexico who also suffered because of the meager water releases from the Mexican reservoirs.

Satellite photos taken last year by the University of Texas' Center for Space Research disclosed that Mexico had three times more water than the United States stored in international dams and tributary systems governed by the treaty.

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(Reported by Phil Magers in Dallas)

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