Mexico fulfills its end of the 1944 water treaty, and the US promises future aid

THE RIO GRANDE — Mexico fulfilled its end of the bargain on the 1944 Mexican Water Treaty by the Saturday, October 24 deadline, putting an end to the suspense that caused U.S. and Texas officials to worry whether the deadline would be met, and caused Mexican farmers to organize massive protests against the release of waters from Mexican tributaries to the Rio Grande.

Tensions have run high this year in Chihuahua, as frustrated farmers protested Mexico’s continued release of waters that flow to the Rio Grande in fulfillment of their requirements under a 1944 treaty to send water to the U.S.-Mexican border river.

In February, hundreds of farmers gathered, breaking into and taking control of La Boquilla dam, south of Chihuahua City near Camargo. They argued that Mexico was extracting too much water and putting their livelihoods at risk in the process. But Mexico responded that there was enough water to fulfill its local water commitments while also meeting the treaty’s requirements.

The International Boundary and Water Commission confirmed that “Mexican users in the Conchos River basin received full water allocations in their irrigation season.”

Still, tensions escalated further when a night of unrest in Ojinaga in June saw protesters block the Ojinaga/Presidio bridge, force legislator Juan Carlos Loera de la Rosa to barricade himself and other officials into a government building, and roll over three government vehicles, setting one on fire.

The clashes reached a peak at the La Boquilla dam in September when Mexican National Guardsmen say they returned fire from protesters, ultimately leaving two dead.

On October 22, two days ahead of the deadline, Mexico, the United States and the IBWC signed Minute No. 325, titled “Measures to End the Current Rio Grande Water Delivery Cycle without a Shortfall, to Provide Humanitarian Support for the Municipal Water Supply for Mexican Communities, and to Establish Mechanisms for Future Cooperation to Improve the Predictability and Reliability of Rio Grande Water Deliveries to Users in the United States and Mexico.”

In it, Mexico recommitted to honoring the longstanding treaty, promising to deliver the last outstanding acre-feet of water before the weekend. But also key was the United States’ offer to support Mexican communities reliant on those waters, offering humanitarian assistance should it be needed.

In the treaty, the share of water can be delivered from six Mexican Rio Grande tributaries. But in a 1969 agreement, Mexico was granted the ability to allocate a greater share of water from those tributaries, make additional releases from its interior reservoirs, and transfer water from Mexican ownership to U.S. ownership at Amistad and Falcon International Reservoirs to complete their water payments. According to Sally E. Spener, the U.S. secretary (Foreign Affairs Officer) at the International Boundary and Water Commission, “Mexico used all of these sources, including releases from Luis L. Leon Dam in Chihuahua, in the cycle that just concluded.”

Under the treaty, the U.S. owes yearly water payments to Mexico, while Mexico must meet its payment requirements every five years. And although the water payments from Mexico to the U.S. have concluded for this cycle, Sunday marked the beginning of a new five-year cycle of payments from Mexico to the United States.