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Legislators hint at possible funding cuts for Minute 319

Federal funding for activities of Minute 319 at risk if the International Boundary & Water Commission does not act to improve Rio Grande water deliveries from Mexico

U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Congressman Filemon Vela (D-TX) have suggested that funding cuts may be in order if the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) does not take action to improve Rio Grande water deliveries from Mexico.

Under the 1944 Treaty for Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande, Mexico must deliver an average of 350,000 acre-feet per year in any five-year cycle.  This means that, while Mexico does not have to deliver 350,000 acre-feet each year, deliveries in five consecutive years must average to 350,000 acre-feet per year.  Mexico is behind in its deliveries—even with recent rains that have reduced its deficit by 200,000 acre-feet.

In a letter to IBWC Commissioner Edward Drusina, Senator Cornyn and Congressman Vela argue that the IBWC has the responsibility to address Mexico’s water deficit.  “Early detection and evaluation of a particular problem and the development of measures for resolution is part of the core mission of IBWC,” they write.

The problem is tightly tied to binational activities on the Colorado River because of both the treaty, which governs Colorado River delivers from the U.S. to Mexico and Rio Grande delivers from Mexico to the U.S., and the potential impacts to Minute 319.

“The United States meets its treaty obligations to deliver water to Mexico on the Colorado River,” said Congressman Vela.  “Unfortunately, Mexico continually fails to comply with its water delivery obligations on the Rio Grande River.”

The legislators also emphasized this point in the letter to Commissioner Drusina.  They note that even though the treaty allows for temporary disruptions to deliveries during “extraordinary drought” or damage to hydraulic systems, “the U.S. has never failed to delivered to Mexico the 1.5 million acre-feet [of Colorado River water] annually required under the Treaty.”

Funding for Minute 319 is currently provided under the FY2014 Continuing Appropriations Act, which expires on January 15, 2014.  Resolution 16 of Minute 319 specifies that the activities to be undertaken are “subject to availability of funds, resources corresponding personnel …”

“…We must look at all options including funding cuts to encourage the International Boundary and Water Commission to take effective action and ensure Mexico makes timely water deliveries,” said Congressman Vela.

Mexico’s Rio Grande delivery deficit most impacts Texas, which is already struggling due to a multi-year drought.  However, it is the repeated failure to meet delivery obligations and the impacts on their ability to plan that most concern state officials.

“The fundamental problem remains that Mexico does not recognize the U.S. as a water user under the treaty and does not set aside any water for treaty compliance,” said Carlos Rubinstein, Chairman of the Texas Water Development Board.  “To the extent that remains unchanged, water reliability under the treaty for the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas will remain at risk.”

“There are more than 1.3 million people in the lower Rio Grande that rely on the river for their raw water supply,” said City of McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.  “Since the river basin is primarily located in Mexico, the cooperation of the Mexican governmental authority is paramount to water planning for our citizens.  We urge the IBWC to assist in setting up a process so that the United States is designated by the Mexican governmental agency as a water user for the specific annual allotment under the treaty.  This would allow for proper water planning to be to the benefit of all diverters from our Rio Grande River.”

Letter to Commissioner Drusina

Minute 319 (216.6 KiB)

1944Treaty (1.5 MiB)


Written by Marta Weismann