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FEATURE Boiling Point Reservoir Wars Along the U.S.-Mexico Border BY MELISSA SATTLEY hile the federal government focuses on the war in Afghanistan and bioterrorism threats at home, a feud is reaching boiling point on the South Texas border over Mexico’s refusal to release a portion of its 1.4 million acre-foot water debt to the U.Swater that could res cue South Texas’ parched farming industry. Farmers in the Rio Grande Valley say they have been going thirsty for years. According to a 1944 U.S./Mexico water treaty, Mexico must deliver 350,000 acre-feet of water to U.S. reservoirs annually to feed the Rio Grande, while the United States is required to deliver 1.5 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River to Mexico every year. But since 1992, Mexico officials say they have been unable to make the yearly water releases because of extreme drought. South Texas farmers have disputed that claim. Last February, President George W Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox struck an agreement requiring Mexico to provide 600,000 acre-feet of water to the lower Rio Grande Valley, which yielded 311,000 acre-feet last spring for South Texas. But since then, not a drop has been released from reservoirs in Mexico and farmers in the Valley are estimating that next year’s planting season will be one of the worst in history. Jo Jo White, an irrigation district manager for the city of Mercedes, said that the water supply in his district is down to just 15 percent of capacity; and that at least seven other districts are likewise close to empty. “I’ve got farmers in my office just about every morning and they are panicky about the situation,” said White. “They are worried about their livelihoods.” “We are at an all-time low,” he said. “Right now, there’s not enough water for next year’s planting season.” For months White, along with other irrigation district managers and farmers, hoped that negotiations between the International along with its Mexican sister agency the Comision water issuesand Mexican officials would yield enough water to salvage the upcoming planting season, which begins in January. But in two meetings in October, farmers learned that Mexico will not be able to honor the February agreement, Minute Order 307, because of political conflicts between Mexican border governors and Fox, and because Mexican officials claim the country is suffering from extreme drought. White and other Valley water stakeholders contend, however, that Mexico is using U.S. water to bolster its growing agricultural industry, which competes directly with U.S. industry. “It seems like we are being sacrificed for Mexico’s economy,” said Gordon Hill, Bayview irrigation district manager. “They are holding our water and growing their fruits and vegetables American Free Trade Agreement, fruit and vegetable imports from Mexico have nearly doubled to 2 billion pounds through South Texas ports of entry, said ‘Hill. Increasingly, south Texas farmers are pointing the finger at the State of Chihuahua, where they say important water stores are being hoarded in the Rio Conchos basin instead of being released to honor Mexico’s water debt. In what White called a “very heated” October 18 meeting in Austin with Mexican diplomat Alberto Szekely,Valley water users accused Mexico of hoarding water at the expense of Texas farmers. “He told us Mexico didn’t have the water,” said White, recounting his version of the meeting. “And we showed him that one state did have water, and it was hoarding itnow 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11/23/01