Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

As Mexico Shares Less Water With Texas, Lawmakers Watch and Worry

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A footprint in the soft mud of the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

State lawmakers and agency heads discussed Mexico’s lack of water contribution to the Rio Grande River, the state of the State Water Plan and invasive species at the House Natural Resources committee meeting at the Capitol yesterday.

Carlos Rubinstein, Commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), said Mexico hasn’t been allowing its fair share of water to enter the Rio Grande.

It’s not the first time Mexico has run up this type of water deficit on the Rio Grande. Between 1992 and 2005, Mexico neglected to put more than 1.5 million acre feet of water into the river. That’s nearly twice the amount of water in Central Texas’ two largest reservoirs, Lakes Travis and Buchanan, combined. Mexico did eventually pay back that debt in water, however.

Without Mexico’s contribution to the Rio Grande, water supplies are running short here in Texas.

“We are up to our fourth irrigation district that has issued letters to municipalities warning them that they are going to run out of irrigation water in the next 60 days,” Rubinstein said.

An agreement between Texas and Mexico to share water from the river dates back to a 1944 treaty, with a long history of conflict. The treaty works as something of an exchange, with Mexico giving Texas water from six tributaries of the Rio Grande in exchange for Mexico getting an even larger amount from the Colorado River.

Since Mexico owes water to the Rio Grande on a five-year cycle, it has two years to pay its water debt before officially falling into noncompliance, Rubinstein said. But given Mexico’s plans to build a plethora of dams near the Rio Grande, Rep. Eddie Lucio, D-Harlingen, said it doesn’t seem likely Mexico will be in the position to pay its water debt on time.

The Mexican state of Chihuahua’s water plan “clearly indicates the planned construction of 15 or 16 new reservoirs some of which will be on the Conchos, which is a principal tributary to the Rio Grande,” Rubinstein said.

Another issue that came up at the hearing was havoc being caused by invasive species on Texas waters.

Carter Smith, Executive Director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, testified that Texas’ invasive species problem isn’t improving, particularly Giant Salvinia and Zebra Mussels.

Salvinia, a floating fern from Brazil, forms thick mats on the surface of lakes, thwarts boat access and can negatively affect property values where it is pervasive, Smith said. And it has been found in more than 23 public waters in the state, he added.

Zebra Mussels could also threaten Texas’ lake dependent economies with disaster. The mussels migrated from the Black Sea to the Great Lakes and have now been found in Lake Texoma and Lake Ray Roberts. The mussels have clogged municipal water pipes running into the reservoirs, Smith said. We can get an idea of how much damage the mussels will cause if they spread by looking North.

“In the Great Lakes, it has literally caused billions of dollars of damage to industry and shipping because of its clogging of pipes and intakes,” Smith said.

David Barer is a reporting intern with StateImpact Texas.


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