Photo: The Western Producer

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

The political clock is ticking, and Mexico now has just weeks to make more than a year’s worth of water payments to the United States in compliance with a 1944 bilateral treaty.

But while Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has repeated said in his morning press conferences that the country will meet the Oct. 24 deadline, the odds of compliance are getting slimmer and slimmer as a standoff between disgruntled Chihuahua farmers and the government remain at loggerheads.

North of the border, nervous Texas farmers, who fear that they will not have enough water to irrigate their crops, are pressuring Governor Greg Abbott, to make ultimatums and appeal to the federal government to force Mexico to chalk up the water it owes.

Under the terms of the treaty, the United States is required to send 1.5 million acre-feet of water to Mexico from the Colorado River for Mexican growers n Baja California each year, while Mexico is only required to turn over 1.75 million acre-feet to Texas farmers through the Conchos River and other tributaries to the Rio Grande over a five-year span.

Even AMLO has admitted that this nearly five-to-one ratio in Mexico’s favor is a treaty that is too good to let fail, and he knows full well that if his government does not comply, the United States could demand a renegotiation of the pact, most likely one that would not be as favorable for Mexico.

Because of the unpredictable issues of weather and other external factors, there is a clause in the current treaty that allows Mexico to provide the water it owes on a piecemeal basis, which is now at the root of the pending conflict.

For the last 10 years, Mexico has failed to meet its quota (the treaty allows for a one-time rollover of payment in case of droughts), and now its decade-long water debt will come due in full next month, with no possibility for a second extension.

As of now, Mexico has only made a token 40,000 acre-feet installment, so it still owes some 372,000 acre-feet in water to the United States.

On the south side of the border, tensions are growing even worse.

Riled up by real and not-so-real concerns (manipulated by political interests) that they will end up paying the price for the debt payment with their own water shortages, armed farmers in Chihuahua have taken over the La Boquilla dam where the water that is due to Texas is being housed.

Egged on by the state’s opposition National Action Party (PAN) governor, Javier Corral Jurado, the farmers are demanding that the AMLO administration renege on the 76-year-old treaty and keep the nation’s water supply at home. 

A violent confrontation between the farmers and National Guard troops earlier this month left at least one protester dead and several others injured, and AMLO has been hesitant to force the protesters from the dam area.

Meanwhile, the farmers are refusing to let the government siphon water from the dam and the standoff between government forces and the farmers are keeping Mexico from being able to pay its water debt.

Unless the government can convince the farmers to relinquish the dam, Mexico may have to ask for an extension on its water debt, and given that it is an election year in the United States, there are no guarantees that it will be granted.

…Sept. 24, 2020

 

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