Mexico Pays Up Rio Grande Water Debt

A potentially thorny water issue between the U.S. and Mexico has been averted for now. According to the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), Mexico’s debt of Rio Grande water with El Norte has been paid.

In a statement released this week, the IBWC said Mexico made its final payment for an outstanding water debt on January 25,  2016, to cover in full the shortfall for the 2010-2015 water cycle that ended last October 24. The water in question applies to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where farms and municipalities draw from the river that Mexico and the U.S. share.

Under the terms of the 1944 Water Treaty, the U.S. is entitled to one-third of lower Rio Grande water supplied by six Mexican tributaries, or at least 1,750,000 acre-feet measured over increments of five years. In return for the Rio Grande water, the United States is obligated to deliver 1,500,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water to Mexico, as spelled out by the 1944 accord.

An earlier Rio Grande agreement reached by Washington and Mexico City in 1906 requires the U.S. to send river water from New Mexico south to Mexico’s Juarez Valley, an area far upstream from the waters covered by the 1944 Water Treaty.

Prior to last month’s water payment destined for the lower reaches of the Rio Grande, Mexico had a pending debt of 263,250 acre-feet, or 15 percent of the five-year total, according to the IBWC.

Intensifying drought in northern Mexico in the early years of the 21st century stoked tensions over the delivery of water to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where farmers and political leaders charged that Mexico was unjustly withholding water owed to them. In 2004, a group of Texas water users even invoked the North American Free Trade Agreement in an attempt to receive monetary compensation from Mexico for alleged losses stemming from the lack of Rio Grande water.

Edward Drusina, U.S. commissioner for the IBWC, sounded an upbeat note on Mexico’s payment of its Rio Grande debt.

“This success exemplifies the cooperation that now exists between the United States and Mexico to address the water needs of both countries,” Drusina said in a press release. “Water debts may at sometimes be unavoidable but all water owners along our common border need to have annual notifications of how much water they can expect to receive the next year in order to plan accordingly.”

Consisting of both a U.S. and a Mexican section, the IBWC is co-responsible for managing and settling boundary and water issues between the two neighboring countries.

Additional Source:, February 24, 2016

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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