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hi 74470 89397 4 0 POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE BORDERING DISASTER. On May 7, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Angel Gurria, signed an agreement that could reduce air pollution in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. And while the measure might mean cleaner air in that area of the border, the most pressing issue along the U.S.-Mexico frontier remains not air, but water. In the lower Rio Grande Valley, many Texas farmers are running out of irrigation water, just as the hottest days of summer are arriving. Their Mexican counterparts have been out of water for months, although some illegal pumping on the south side of the river is still being reported. The two international lakes that hold water from the river, Amistad Reservoir and Falcon Reservoir, are at historic lows and now contain about one year’s supply of water for a region that includes the cities of Laredo, Nuevo Laredo, McAllen, Reynosa, Brownsville, and Matamoros. In the absence of a regional water strategy, some analysts are predicting a dire future. “If we are in this position now, imagine what it will be like in ten years,” says John Hinojosa, the former Rio Grande Valley watermaster, who now works as a water conservation consultant to cities in the area. A water shortage is also looming on the horizon for the rapidly growing El PasoCiudad Juarez area. While the new binational committee on air quality could help 2.5 million residents breathe easier, both municipalities are rapidly depleting the common aquifer from which they draw water. Some analysts are predicting Juarez could run out of water within fifteen years. “Juarez is growing at a faster pace than El Paso,” says Jorge Aguirre, the technical director for the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission. “So in the very near future, Juarez will have to import water from forty or fifty miles away.” El Paso is already grabbing up water rights in places as far as Fort Davis, two hundred miles away. At the other end of the pipeline are sewage problems. Despite numerous efforts to find the forty million dollars needed to build a sewage treatment plant in Juarez, the city of some two million has no wastewater treatment facilitiesa situation that continues to cause odor, mosquito, and rodent problems in El Paso, and poses a serious public health threat to the entire region. Some of the water difficulties on the border are being addressed by the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission and the San Antonio-based North American Development Bank. Created as side agreements to NAFTA, the BECC and the NADBank are designed to work together to approve and provide funding for pollution control and water treatment facilities along the border. But both transnational agencies are getting off to a slow start. So far, the BECC has certified seven different water treatment plants along the border, but none has begun construction, although the NADBank has two hundred twenty-five million dollars in cash supplied by the U.S. and Mexican governments. “We’d rather be criticized for not lending than for doing a bad loan,” said Annie Alvarado, a NADBank spokesperson, who added that the first project, a wastewater treatment plant in Brawley, California, could be ready to start construction sometime this fall. The lack of water continues to hurt tourism in the Big Bend. The Rio Grande is so low at Big Bend National Park that river outfitters are discouraging boaters from going down the river. This summer may be even worse than last summer, when many outfitters chose to leave the area and do trips in Colorado and other states. Jose Cisneros, the superintendent at the national park, summed up the situation by saying, “If you want to run the river, you better bring your Nikes.” TRADING POISON. The little West Texas town that already gets sewage sludge from New York and will soon be home to large quantities of radioactive waste keeps on staying in the news. On April 22, residents of the Del Rio, Texas and Ciudad Acuria, Coahuila, protesting the Sierra Blanca nuclear waste dump, blocked the international bridge that connects the two cities. But this time, the crowd of protesters blocking the bridge included more than the usual suspects, as mayors of Del Rio and Ciudad Acuria addressed the demonstration, which blocked the bridge for more than three hours. The siting of the radioactive waste dump has also become a prominent issue in U.S.Mexico relations. According to several sources, the U.S. was recently forced to back away from demands that Mexico reduce airborne emissions from its coal-fired power plants, Carbon 1 and 2, at Piedras Negras. The power plants, which sit just across the river from Eagle Pass, have been blamed for the sharp reduction in visibility in Big Bend National Parkone hundred forty miles west of the plants. \(In the spring of 1989, visitors to Big Bend National Park could see an average of seventy-one miles. Last month, according to figures from the National Park Service, visibility had fallen During a meeting in late March, officials from the U.S. State Department brought up the issue of the power plants. Mexican officials responded by raising the issue of the radioactive waste facility in Sierra Blanca. An environmentalist source close to the negotiations said frankly, “We pulled back on Carbon 2 to satisfy the Mexicans on the radioactive waste dump.” Texans have been complaining about the power plants for years. And now, the Mexican government has found its own border pollution issue to complain about. All of which demonstrates See “Poison,” page 23 24 MAY 31, 1996