- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 28 (UPI) — Nearly 2,000 federal aid checks totaling $10 million are being mailed this week to South Texas farmers affected by Mexico's failure to release enough irrigation water into the Rio Grande, a state agricultural official said Tuesday.

The 1,862 checks are for losses suffered in 2001 because of a lack of sufficient irrigation water due to Mexico's non-compliance with a 1944 U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty that regulates flows in the river, State Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs said.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, sponsored the federal aid for losses suffered in 2001 and she is spearheading efforts in the current Congress to secure another $10 million for similar losses in 2002.

Aid for 2001 was distributed by dividing the $10 million in federal funds by eligible and approved irrigated acreage.

"A total of 455,388 acres were eligible for this aid, and farmers will be paid $21.77 for each affected acre," Combs said. "Although, this amount does not even come close to covering actual losses, estimated to be $259 per acre in 2001, the assistance should help offset some farmers' losses."

Mexico's 1.5 million acre foot water debt to the United States has caused an estimated $1 billion loss to the Lower Rio Grande Valley economy during the past 10 years, according to a Texas A&M; University study.

In a new agreement, Mexico has pledged to deliver 350,000 acre feet of water to the Rio Grande by Sept. 30, and an additional 50,000 acre feet if weather conditions permit, with 200,000 to be paid by the end of January, according to the U.S. State Department.

Growers have said they need a minimum of 600,000 acre feet of water by the end of this month. Also, the repayment amounts do not take into account conveyance and evaporative losses, they say.

The U.S.-Mexico negotiators plan more meetings in hopes of settling the long-running dispute.

Combs and other Texas officials contended Mexico can release more water because it has almost 3.2 million acre feet of water in storage in border-area reservoirs.

"The agreed payment is only 23 percent of the 1.5 million acre feet owed by Mexico, and amounts to only 11 percent of the water Mexico has in storage and could deliver to our struggling farmers," Combs said.

The sore point in the talks is the outstanding water debate 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 into the Rio Grande.

Last October, angry South Texas farmers and state officials urged the U.S. government to impose economic sanctions against Mexico for its continued failure to released 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.

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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