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Border crisis worsens as Mexico dries out south Texas farmers

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The border crisis continues to worsen as the Mexican government dries out south Texas farmers, those in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley argue. The situation has become so dire that state Democratic lawmakers have called on the Biden administration and Gov. Greg Abbott to take immediate action.

Democratic members of Congress also have called on the Biden administration to enforce a 1944-era water treaty to no avail.

Mexico is not upholding its end of a 1944 Treaty of Utilization of Waters, the lawmakers argue. The treaty governs water usage between the U.S. and Mexico including from two international reservoirs: Lake Amistad and Falcon Lake in Texas along the international border. Mexico has historically released water storage from Lake Amistad to Mexican growers, not to Texas growers, and the U.S. federal government hasn’t stepped in to enforce the terms of the treaty. Recently, Mexican officials killed any agreements to release water to Texans, even running ads in Mexico City to protest compliance with the treaty, according to news reports.

South Texas sugar growers said that without the State Department’s support, “all attempts to negotiate timely water releases for Mexico have failed.”

Last month, Texas’ last sugar mill announced it was shutting down as a result. Because Mexico wasn’t releasing water as required by the treaty, south Texas growers didn’t have enough water to grow their crops, forcing more than 100 sugar growers out of business, 500 workers out of jobs and the Rio Grande Valley to lose an initial $100 million in economic losses.

On Tuesday, primarily Democratic state lawmakers urged U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to enforce the treaty, saying the water shortage wasn’t just devastating the agricultural community but also “in our fast-growing region, development is beginning to slow.”

In a joint letter led by Democratic state Rep. Terry Canales, they expressed “deep concern” about “ongoing challenges related to water delivery and the apparent noncompliance” with the treaty. “We are disappointed to observe a persistent shortfall in the delivery of water to our region, specifically an average of 350,000 acre-feet annually,” as stipulated in the treaty. “The scarcity of water in our region has far-reaching implications for agriculture, ecosystems, and communities on both sides of the border” and “strongly urged” the State Department “to take immediate and effective action to rectify the situation.”

Joining Canales were state senators Judith Zaffirini, Juan Hinojosa and Morgan LaMantia, and state Reps. Ryan Guillen, Armando Martinez, and Sergio Muñoz, Jr. All are Democrats except for Guillen, who recently switched parties and was most recently reelected as a Republican.

In a separate letter sent before the Easter holiday, Canales called on Abbott to declare a state of emergency, saying the “critical water challenges” were “creating an imminent threat to our residents and farmers.”

By declaring a state of emergency, the governor could provide additional state resources to “prevent additional economic losses and job layoffs,” he said.

In the lower Rio Grande Valley, “farmers are running out of vital irrigation water,” Canales said. “Compounding this issue is the alarming delay by Mexico in fulfilling its obligations” under the treaty “exacerbating the water shortage for our local farmers.”

“We must find a means of applying pressure on Mexico to comply with the treaty and release the water owed to the United States,” he said, asking Abbott to urge the State Department to enforce the treaty.

Neither the governor’s office nor the attorney general’s office responded to requests for comment. It remains unclear what legal recourse the state has or the extent to which the governor or state legislature could act to provide the amount of water needed to the region.

The agricultural industry in the Rio Grande Valley contributes roughly $1 billion annually to the economy and provides roughly 8,400 full-time jobs, Canales said. But it’s not just the agricultural community that’s in jeopardy, he added. Mission’s city council members are planning to impose a moratorium on all new residential and commercial developments built on over five acres of land citing the water shortage. Other communities are also facing similar challenges, he said.

Without water, “we are perilously close to losing a crucial economic pillar and immediate action is imperative.

“If we don’t start turning the ship now, the Rio Grande Valley ultimately faces the threat of the taps running dry,” he warned.

While the State Department hasn’t acted, Canales expressed confidence that Abbott would.

With the governor’s support, “we can pave the way for a sustainable and secure water future for our community,” Canales said. The governor’s “swift action will make a significant difference in preserving the livelihoods of our residents and the economic well-being of our region.”

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